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  • Chapter 145 Challenge?

    "Man… you have got to be shitting me." Li Yundong turned in his seat and gaped at President Cao. He'd figured out where President Cao was taking them as soon as President Cao turned the Lamborghini into a street that would lead towards none other than Shengyuan Hotel.

    President Cao sighed. "Yeah, I wish were…"

    Li Yundong shook his head in disbelief. "Seriously?"

    "Yeah. The production crew wanted to host the party at Shengyuan Hotel." President Cao gave him a helpless shrug. "It's not like I have any say in the matter."

    Li Yundong chuckled wryly. After he and Lin Youfa nearly tore the place apart, Li Yundong really wouldn't be surprised if he'd become a persona non grata at the hotel by then.

    "Ugh… What's with these strange coincidences?" Li Yundong mumbled. "It's like someone is plotting a goddamn conspiracy."

    Minutes later, President Cao slowed the Lamborghini and steered it through Shengyuan Hotel's front gates, which, to Li Yundong's amazement, had already been repaired.

    "And in case you're wondering… Yes, I'm the one who paid for the gates that mad man destroyed," President Cao grumbled once they had cleared the gates and were heading towards the parking lot.

    Su Chan's hands appeared from the back seat and slapped his shoulders. "Yundong! Yundong!"

    Li Yundong turned around. "Yes, princess?"

    Su Chan's eyes sparkled. "This place..."

    Li Yundong chuckled. Of course she'd recognize this place too. Of course…

    "Yep," Li Yundong said with a nod. "It's the same place..."

    "Oh." Su Chan paused in thought. A moment later, she burst into giggles.

    Realization washed over Li Yundong, and he shot Su Chan a playful glare. Oh, no you don't, you little chipmunk… 

    "Nope. You're not pulling another Mount Everest stunt, okay?" Li Yundong said in a stern voice.

    Su Chan giggled harder, then made a face at him.

    "I'm serious, Su Chan…" Li Yundong said, struggling to keep his own laughter at bay.

    "Mmm!"

    The Lamborghini pulled into an empty parking space after a while.

    "Mount Everest?" President Cao gazed at them curiously.

    Li Yundong waved his hand. "It's a long story."

    He unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of the Lamborghini.

    Time to work for a living.

    ***

    "Gee. You'd think I personally murdered their families or something," Li Yundong mumbled as they moved across the huge lobby. Pretty much every hotel staff they passed by had given him wary looks as though he was a dirty bomb that could detonate any second.

    President Cao chuckled. "Can you blame them though? Have you seen the damage you caused to that bathroom? It's like the work of a demolition contractor, for heaven's sake."

    Li Yundong smiled sheepishly. "It was an accident. I was attacked."

    They stopped at the reception counter, where President Cao exchanged words with the concierge on duty. Li Yundong looked around the lobby and noticed the looks of admiration that were being cast upon President Cao and Su Chan. Which, of course, was to be expected. Aside from the fact that both President Cao and Su Chan were beautiful women, they were also dressed to the nines tonight: Su Chan in a red, pleated dress; and President Cao in a black evening gown with a plunging neckline that revealed a decent amount of cleavage and thick diamond necklace.

    Minutes later, President Cao thanked the concierge and led them away from the counter. They made a few turns until they arrived at a hallway lined with huge rooms on both sides. Sign boards stood outside the door of each room. Most of the sign boards were empty.

    "There it is!" President Cao pointed at a black sign board: Launch Party for the TV Series The World of Swords.

    Li Yundong smiled at President Cao. "Don't tell me you're the show's sponsor?"

    President Cao laughed bitterly. "Yeah. I wish." She glanced at Li Yundong. "You need to put in at least eight figures to get a TV series airing." President Cao snorted. "I wouldn't be chased around by a bunch of creditors if I'm that rich."

    "Okay? So if this TV show has nothing to do with your firm, then why are we here?"

    President Cao laughed. "My firm is the producer, of course. Someone else is taking care of the bills. My team takes care of the technical stuff."

    "I see."

    "Oh, and one more thing. I'll introduce you two to everyone at the party as reporters." President Cao gave him a pointed look. "Just a heads up."

    Li Yundong's eyes widened a tad. "What? Why?"

    President Cao tut-tutted and gave him a look of disapproval. "Just follow my lead and don't ask any more questions." A sparkle lit up President Cao's eyes. "Besides... They'll be giving out red packets to reporters, so." President Cao shrugged. "Figured you needed the extra cash."

    Li Yundong had nothing to say to that.

    A moment later, Li Yundong and Su Chan were led towards the black sign board. Past the sign board was a short hallway which led to a huge door. A middle-aged man with a short, flattop haircut stood outside the door.

    The man brightened up the moment he saw their arrival. "Yo! President Cao! You're here early!"

    The three of them stopped in front of the man.

    President Cao smiled in greeting. "Wow! President Wang! You're greeting the guests yourself tonight? What a surprise!"

    President Wang studied Li Yundong and Su Chan curiously. "And who might this handsome young man and this beautiful lady be?" President Wang's brows rose just a tad. Then, his eyes widened as though he'd just realized something. "Ah, I see, are they your rookies this year? Damn! You really know how to pick 'em, President Cao!"

    President Cao chuckled. "Right. As if I'm so lucky to sign such a good looking pair. No, they aren't my rookies. They're actually from the media."

    President Wang's face fell. "Oh, so you're from the media!" The man immediately took out two red packets from his jacket and offered them to Li Yundong and Su Chan. "My goodness! I'm terribly sorry for the mistake!"

    Li Yundong took the red packet, then glanced at Su Chan, who was staring at the red packet with a puzzled expression. Uh-oh...

    Li Yundong cleared his throat and accepted Su Chan's red packet on her behalf. "Don't mind her, President Wang. She's new here. She's our new intern, in fact. She still doesn't know how things work around here."

    President Wang laughed and waved off Li Yundong's concerns. "Nah. It's all fine! Please, go on inside!"

    The three of them entered the banquet hall.

    "It's pretty impressive what you did back there," President Cao praised. "It shows that you have the ability to think on your feet."

    Li Yundong gave President Cao a sidelong glance. "Aren't you worried they might ask for our identifications?"

    President Cao chuckled. "I've been in this line of work for a long time, kid. I know how things work around here. Trust me, they won't ask for identifications." President Cao stopped walking and waved at a group of people standing at another corner of the banquet hall. "Um, hey. I need to go greet a few people." Then, she lowered her voice so that only Li Yundong could hear her. "Remember your job."

    After President Cao walked away, Li Yundong began taking stock of the banquet hall. To say that the hall was lavish and opulent was probably an understatement—the place looked like some kind of palace. Black marble tiles stretched out beneath his feet. A huge gold chandelier hung from the ceiling, sparkling amidst the light it emitted. The whole place was dazzling to say the least.

    There were at least one hundred attendees by Li Yundong's estimate. Some kind of stage was set up in front of the hall. A large congratulatory banner hung above the stage: "Congratulations to the Production Crew on the Successful Launch of the World of Swords."

    Waiters bustled around with trays, weaving their way through a throng of well-dressed men and women. Li Yundong grabbed a soda from a passing waiter and continued his inspection of his surroundings.

    At one point, he noticed Su Chan's gaze lingering on the long table where the food had been served up. She looked like she was about to pounce onto the table and start wolfing down everything.

    Li Yundong smacked Su Chan's forehead. "Don't even think about it," he said in a warning tone. "We're here on a job."

    A huge pout formed on Su Chan's lips. "Can't I have some? Just a little?"

    "A little? You looked like you'd gobble up everything on the table the first chance you get!"

    Su Chan's eyes sparkled. "Can I eat everything on the table?"

    Li Yundong massaged his temples and released a groan. "Of course not, you dummy!"

    Su Chan's eyes turned watery. "So I can only watch others eat? B- But t- that's so cruel..." Su Chan gazed longingly at the long table.

    "Stop it," Li Yundong chastised. "You can't eat the stuff on the table! Haven't you embarrassed us enough last time?"

    Su Chan pouted again. "But what's the point of serving up the food if people aren't allowed to eat them? Hmph! So mean!"

    Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head. "Just resist, okay? I'm on the job tonight. You know that." Li Yundong rubbed her back, then paused to look at her. "You don't me to get fired, do you?"

    Su Chan shook her head.

    Li Yundong patted her head. "Good. I'll whipped something up when we get home."

    "Yo, yo, yo... Isn't that the martial art master Tan Fei was talking about the other day?"

    Li Yundong turned at the voice.

    A handsome and fashionably dressed man stood a few feet away from him and Su Chan. The man appeared to by studying Li Yundong curiously, and he wasn't alone—there was a woman beside him.

    "Excuse me? Are you talking to me?" Li Yundong pointed at himself.

    The handsome man smiled and stepped forward. "Yes, I am," the man said, smoothing out his pristine white suit with his hands. When the man stopped in front of Li Yundong, Li Yundong immediately noticed how tall the man was—about 185 cm if Li Yundong were to venture a guess.

    Li Yundong had to tilt his head upwards to see the man's face.

    Suddenly, the handsome man turned around and shouted at someone behind him. "Tan Fei!"

    Li Yundong followed the man's gaze and saw another woman dressed in a white cheongsam standing nearby. The woman was none other than Tan Fei, the actress who tried to proposition him the day he was ambushed by Lin Youfa at this very same hotel. Tan Fei was, of course, not alone. She was flanked by Zhang Guozheng and a young man dressed in a red Tang suit.

    Tan Fei gave Li Yundong a nod, which Li Yundong politely returned. At the same time, he saw the look of fear in Zhang Guozheng's eyes before the poor man averted his gaze. Clearly, the actor hadn't forgotten the episode in the bathroom.

    "So? Tan Fei? Is this the guy you mentioned?" the handsome man in white suit said.

    Tan Fei nodded again.

    Before Li Yundong knew it, the young man in the red Tang suit was heading over towards him. Seconds later, the man stopped in front of Li Yundong and performed a Bao Quan Li.

    "Greetings, my friend. I am Shi Neng, a practitioner and successor of the Iron Palm from the Northern Shaolin School. May I know which school you are from?"

    The Iron Palm? He'd heard of that style before, but only from TV documentaries. Apparently, these guys specialized in hardening and conditioning their palms so that they could use them to smash through anything.

    Li Yundong studied the man in front of him. The guy was pretty tall, but not as tall as the guy in the white suit. Maybe around 170 cm? Even when hidden beneath the long sleeves of the Tang Suit, Li Yundong could tell that the man had thick, muscular arms. Thick callouses covered the man's palm, confirming the man's claim that he was a practitioner of the Shaolin's Iron Palm.

    Sounds of laughter rang out.

    Li Yundong turned and regarded the handsome man beside him.

    "Hey, Shi Neng. Didn't you mention something about a friendly duel? Here's your chance!"

    Shi Neng's eyes glinted with excitement when he looked at Li Yundong.

    "How about it, brother? I challenge you to a friendly duel! Do you accept the challenge?"


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  • Chapter 146 Challenge Accepted

    Li Yundong shook his head. "Listen, Mr. Shi Neng. I don't think it's appropriate to do this here." Li Yundong gestured at their surroundings. Look around, you moron. You wanna start a fight at a nice place like this?

    Shi Neng opened his mouth to speak. However, the handsome man in the white suit cut in before Shi Neng could get a word out.

    "Come on, that's not a problem at all. We have space here. And you don't even have to strike for real. You can just do a bit of point sparring. Besides..." The handsome man lowered his voice conspiratorially. "It might be a good idea to let the members of the media get a few shots of you two sparring. It's good publicity."

    Frowning, Li Yundong gave the man a sidelong glance. "And you are?"

    Much to Li Yundong's surprise, Su Chan jumped in right then. "Ooh! I know who you are!" She pointed at the man in white suit. "You're Guo Peng!"

    A smug look formed on Guo Peng's face. "You know me? Ah, you must've watched one of the TV shows I starred in!"

    Su Chan bobbed her head adorably. "Mm-hmm! Mm-hmm! I watched them all!"

    "All of them? Wow!" Guo Peng laughed merrily. 

    Li Yundong clenched his jaw. What the hell is so funny, douchebag?

    Guo Peng stopped laughing and gave Su Chan a sheepish look, which looked totally fake. "Ah, well..." Guo Peng said. "Those were my work from two years ago. They weren't really that good..."

    Li Yundong resisted the urge to roll his eyes. This douchebag was clearly fishing for compliments.

    Su Chan bobbed her head even harder. "Yep! Those shows totally sucked! I mean, boo! You look so silly in those shows! I actually pitied you when I watched them."

    Sounds of feminine laughter rang out. Li Yundong raised his gaze and saw Tan Fei hiding her mouth behind her palm. Even Guo Peng's date was struggling to contain her laughter.

    Suppressing his own laughter, Li Yundong turned around and gave Su Chan a glare. "Tsk! Shush!"

    After that, he pulled Su Chan's arm and hid her body behind him. Then, when he was sure that no one could see, he gave her a thumbs up.

    Su Chan giggled and then beamed at him.

    Li Yundong felt his heart swell.

    By the time Li Yundong returned to the conversation, Guo Peng looked as though he had just swallowed a fly.

    Li Yundong smirked. Not so smug now, huh, douche?

    Guo Peng cleared his throat. "Yeah, well... Like I said, those shows are my older works. Quite immature I'd say..." Suddenly, Guo Peng's gaze was on Li Yundong again. "Tan Fei told us about your combat skills the other day. I really think you should show off a bit of your skills."

    Frowning, Li Yundong opened his mouth to speak, but then Shi Neng beat him to it.

    "The challenge doesn't have to involve violence," Shi Neng declared confidently. "I mean if you're worried about collateral damage…"

    Guo Peng gave Shi Neng a strange look. "A martial arts challenge that doesn't involve violence? Well, that's interesting."

    Shi Neng laughed but didn't give any further explanations. Instead, he waved at a nearby waiter. When the waiter came over, Shi Neng whispered something the man's ear. A moment later, the waiter nodded and hurried off.

    A few minutes later, the waiter returned with a rattan container that was shaped like a bowl. "Will this one do, sir?"

    Shi Neng smiled. "Ah, that will do perfectly. Thank you." He took the rattan bowl and gave the waiter a generous tip.

    Grinning, the waiter took the tip and walked away.

    Shi Neng waved the container at Li Yundong and showed him the container's base, which was porous. Just then, Tan Fei and Zhang Guozheng joined their group.

    Li Yundong raised a brow and shot Shi Neng a questioning look. Instead of giving an explanation, Shi Neng just smiled at him. Seconds later, Shi Neng stopped another passing waiter. "Please bring me a jug of hot water."

    A look of confusion formed on the waiter's face, but the man complied and left them to carry out the order.

    When the waiter returned with a thermos, Shi Neng held out the rattan bowl with both hands covering its base, then gave the waiter a pointed look. "Pour the hot water into this thing."

    The waiter jumped slightly and gave Shi Neng a wide-eyed look. "B- But sir! The water is fresh off the kettle and..." The waiter glanced down at the rattan bowl.

    "It's okay... Just pour," Shi Neng said with a forced smile.

    The waiter gaped at him for a few seconds. "B- But your hand will get burned and I—"

    "Just do it..." Shi Neng growled. "Whether I get burned or not is my business."

    The waiter stared at Shi Neng for a few moments before he sighed. "Y- Yes sir."

    Li Yundong frowned deeply. What the hell is this moron planning? Was he trying to show off how resistant his skin was to high temperatures? But if that was the case, why not just dip his entire hand into a bowl of boiling water? What was the deal with all this showmanship? Li Yundong moved his Qi to his Shenting and zoomed in on the base of the rattan bowl.

    The base was unmistakably porous. The thing would never be able to hold any form of liquid. When Li Yundong zoomed out, something weird was going on with Shi Neng's face. It was slightly flushed and the veins in his forehead were now visible.

    "Sir, I'm pouring now," the waiter said.

    The waiter uncapped the thermos, then positioned it above the rattan bowl.

    Seconds later, hot, steaming water gushed into the rattan bowl.

    Li Yundong zoomed in at the base and—

    Holy shit...

    "Oh, my God! That's amazing!" Tan Fei exclaimed, mirroring Li Yundong's surprise.

    The waiter yelped in surprise and nearly lost his grip on the thermos.

    Then, Li Yundong heard Su Chan's derisive snort. "Hmph. That's just child's play."

    Li Yundong whirled around and whispered to her softly, "What? How the heck did he do it?"

    Su Chan rolled her eyes.

    "You really need to start thinking like a Cultivator, Yundong," she whispered.

    Li Yundong turned back around to look at Shi Neng. The waiter had already stopped pouring hot water into the rattan bowl; it would start overflowing if he did.

    "Look closer at the bowl..." Su Chan whispered behind him.

    Li Yundong zoomed in at the base of the bowl. Realization washed over him when he had zoomed in enough to see the tiny pores.

    Wait a minute… isn't that…? Li Yundong turned around abruptly to look at Su Chan. Qi? he mouthed the word to Su Chan.

    Su Chan beamed at him and gave him a nod. Li Yundong turned back to the bowl.

    Shi Neng had gathered his Qi to form a thin film over the surface of his palms. And then when he placed both palms at the bottom of the bowl, his Qi acted as some kind of seal to prevent the hot water from leaking through the pores.

    "You can do pretty much the same thing, and more."

    Li Yundong turned around abruptly. "More?" 

    Su Chan nodded. "You can do it without the bowl."

    Li Yundong's brows rose in surprise.

    Su Chan smiled as though she had read his mind. "Your Qi is powerful enough to shape water without the use of a container."

    Before Li Yundong could say anything else, Guo Peng clapped his hand on Li Yundong's shoulder. "Hah! You see that pal? That's what I call real Kung-fu!"

    Li Yundong removed Guo Peng's hand from his shoulder and turned away from Su Chan. A tiny crowd had gathered around Shi Neng right then. Tan Fei, Zhang Guozheng, and the waiter were all staring at the bowl with awestruck looks on their faces.

    Li Yundong smiled gave Guo Peng a casual shrug. "That's a neat trick, I'll give you that."

    Guo Peng smirked. "Well? Why don't you show us a couple of your tricks, then?"

    "Or…" Shi Neng shoved the rattan bowl in Li Yundong's direction. The steaming water sloshed about inside the bowl. A few drops spilled from the edge onto the floor. "You can try to do the same thing?"

    Li Yundong regarded Shi Neng with a neutral expression. There was a challenging glint in Shi Neng's eyes. Li Yundong eyed the rattan bowl being held in front of his face. Hot steam billowed from the surface of the water, tickling his nose and cheeks.

    Li Yundong smirked, then closed his eyes until he felt the familiar ball of heat at his lower Dantian. By the time he opened his eyes, his Qi was gathered at both palms.

    "Sure," Li Yundong said, reaching for the bowl.

    All of a sudden, there was a loud gasp followed by the waiter's curse. The huge thermos slipped from the waiter's grip and struck the rattan bowl in Shi Neng's hands. Warning shouts and yelps sounded as the bowl toppled, spilling the hot water in Li Yundong's direction.

    "Watch out!"

    "Look out!"

    Li Yundong extended his right hand and, as though guided by an invisible force, the water droplets in the air drifted towards Li Yundong's palm. Li Yundong moved his palm in a wide arc, collecting as much of the spilled hot water as possible. The rattan bowl fell to the floor with a soft thud, but nobody bothered to pick it up.

    "W- What... t- the... the f- f*ck..." Guo Peng stammered.

    Li Yundong bent down and picked up the fallen bowl. When he straightened, he brought his right hand closer to his face and studied the hot water hovering about half an inch above his palm. The water now took the form of a sphere. Wisps of steam rose from the sphere's surface, causing Li Yundong's eyes to tear a little.

    "F*ck... It's like a magic trick..." Zhang Guozheng said stupidly.

    Li Yundong smirked. Well, it wasn't really magic. And it most definitely wasn't a trick. Like Su Chan said, it was all about Qi control. In fact, this was what the Lianqi phase's Ziru was all about: the complete mastery of one's Qi such that it would respond to one's will and thus be used to perform various physical tasks. Shaping water was probably just one of many things that one could accomplish with one's Qi.

    Li Yundong placed the rattan bowl back onto Shi Neng's open palm, then snapped his fingers at the stunned waiter.

    Once he was sure that he had the waiter's attention, Li Yundong pointed at the fallen thermos beside the waiter's feet.

    To his credit, the waiter complied instantly. He picked up the thermos and handed it to Li Yundong with shaky hands.

    Li Yundong shoved the ball of water into the thermos, then capped it.

    Once he was done, Li Yundong met everyone's slack-jawed expressions and smiled.

    "Phew! That was pretty close, huh?"

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  • Chapter 147 This Is What Real Kung-Fu Looks Like!

    "Here," Li Yundong said, putting the thermos back into the waiter's palm. "You better put that away before someone gets hurt."

    The waiter nodded stupidly and held on the thermos with both hands.

    "Impressive," Shi Neng said, clapping his hands a few times. "It appears that you have fully mastered the art of Qi control. Impressive indeed."

    Li Yundong ignored the praise and began scanning the banquet hall for President Cao. He was in charge of President Cao's personal safety tonight, so he couldn't afford to be distracted by meaningless showboating.

    Li Yundong located President Cao in a far corner of the hall. She appeared to be chatting animatedly with some guy. Alright, then. Time to ditch these people and get back to work—

    "How about we do some point sparring?" Shi Neng said.

    Li Yundong stared at Shi Neng through narrowed eyes. "I'd rather not cause a scene if you don't mind." He glanced in President Cao's direction. President Cao appeared to be totally engrossed in her conversation. Li Yundong take a step back. "Now if you'll excuse me—"

    Li Yundong reacted instantly the moment he felt a strong pressure on his wrist. He dropped his elbow low, then swung his forearm in an upward arc while stepping forward and to the side—at about 45 degrees—of Shi Neng.

    Li Yundong's movements caused Shi Neng's arm to twist into an awkward angle around the elbow and shoulder joints. Shi Neng hissed, but he still didn't let go of Li Yundong's wrist.

    Li Yundong's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "From what I've seen, you're clearly an experienced martial artist." Li Yundong's cold gaze zeroed in on Shi Neng's pained expression. "So you must know that this is a Chin Na joint lock."

    The entire hall was now silent except for Shi Neng's heavy breathing.

    "You're lucky that I didn't break your arm," Li Yundong said after the brief pause. "Consider this mercy." Li Yundong raised his free hand, then struck Shi Neng's forearm, pulling his arm free at the same time. Shi Neng yelped and stumbled backwards. A few guys—who were clearly Shi Neng's acquaintances—moved in to prevent Shi Neng from falling flat onto his ass, but everyone else seemed too stunned to move.

    Li Yundong smoothed out the sleeves of his jacket. "Are we done here?"

    When nobody answered, Li Yundong turned towards Guo Peng and stepped into his personal space. He patted Guo Peng's chest a few times. "I suggest you do more research before you start making claims about what real Kung-Fu looks like, pal."

    Ignoring Guo Peng's gobsmacked expression, Li Yundong turned towards Su Chan.

    "Come on, princess. Let's get outta here."

    "Oh," Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong took her hand led her towards President Cao.

    ***

    "Where on earth did you find a guy like that, President Cao?"

    Cao Kefei turned away from the crowd and focused her attention on Director Zhang, who seemed impressed by how Li Yundong had handled Shi Neng's challenge.

    Suddenly, Director Zhang chuckled. "Well. Looks like your boy over there has some problems getting along with Shi Neng."

    Cao Kefei followed Director Zhang's gaze and noticed Li Yundong twisting Shi Neng's arm into a weird angle. A second later, Shi Neng was stumbling backwards into the arms of several guys. Cao Kefei smiled. "That's normal I suppose. They're both hot-blooded young men, after all."

    Director Zhang slapped his thigh. "Dang! Too bad we didn't manage to capture what he did on camera..." He lowered his voice to a mumble. "I bet my team would love to have that on tape..."

    Smiling, Cao Kefei said nothing and took a sip from her flute. She didn't have to say much, to be honest. From she was seeing, Director Zhang was pretty much sold on Li Yundong's potential to become a super star.

    "You know..." Director Zhang's pensive voice made Cao Kefei lower her flute.

    Cao Kefei smiled. "Yes, director?"

    "It's quite common for great martial artists to get a movie role..." Director Zhang said.

    Bingo!

    Admittedly, there was a hidden agenda behind Cao Kefei's assignment for Li Yundong tonight. Well, in her defense, she really did need Li Yundong here to keep her safe—she was still receiving death threats every now and then—and to act as her bodyguard. But of course that wasn't the only reason she'd given Li Yundong this assignment. The other reason was to expose Li Yundong to the world of showbiz. With his looks and abilities, it was just a matter of time before Li Yundong caught someone's attention, preferably someone with deep pockets.

    Director Zhang was just the first of many. Of that, Cao Kefei had no doubt.

    If she played her cards right, Li Yundong would rise into stardom very soon. And if she could get Li Yundong to sign a contract with Huasheng Studios...

    "Boss!"

    Cao Kefei whirled around and saw Li Yundong and Su Chan heading over towards her.

    Speak of the devil... Cao Kefei shared a glance with Director Zhang, then gave Li Yundong a smile.

    "Yes?" Cao Kefei said once Li Yundong stopped in front of them. "What is it?"

    "Is it okay for Su Chan to grab a bite?" Li Yundong pointed towards the long table where the food was served. Suddenly, Li Yundong leaned in and lowered his voice into a whisper. "I mean, I know I'm supposed to be on duty. But Su Chan is hungry..."

    Cao Kefei chuckled. "By all means. If she wants to eat, I've got no problems with that."

    Li Yundong smiled brightly and gave her a nod. "Thanks, boss."

    After that, Li Yundong led Su Chan away again.

    "My God..." Director Zhang whispered.

    Cao Kefei turned her head slightly and regarded the director. The director's slack-jawed expression looked a little funny, so Cao Kefei followed his gaze. Director Zhang was staring after Su Chan.

    A smirk tugged Cao Kefei's lips. Looks like I've picked the right dress for the girl. Not that Su Chan needed a dress to make her look good. Even in normal clothes, the girl exuded beauty in spades.

    "Hell… President Cao… If we can sign them both..." Director Zhang mumbled, still staring at the leaving couple.

    Cao Kefei took another sip from her flute. "All in good time, director," she said. "All in good time."

    ***

    "Oww! Meanie! You stepped on my foot!"

    Li Yundong smiled and pinched Su Chan's cheek. "Oops. Sorry. Didn't do it on purpose."

    After squeezing their way through a huge crowd of well-dressed people, they had finally arrived at the long table.

    "It was totally on purpose, you meanie!"

    Li Yundong laughed when Su Chan made a face at him.

    "Alright, alright. Quit messing around and let's go grab a plate. You must be starving." He took her hand and started pulling her towards the table.

    "Of course I'm starv—"

    Li Yundong felt a resistance in his hand, as though Su Chan had stopped following him. Li Yundong turned around with a frown. "What's wrong...?"

    Su Chan's was pointing towards the banquet hall's entrance. "Hey... Isn't that Zhou Qin?"

    Li Yundong looked in the direction of the entrance.

    "I thought they hated each other now…" Li Yundong said, not taking his eyes off the entrance.

    Through the open door, Li Yundong saw Zhou Qin and Ding Nan standing in close proximity to each other. Ding Nan was whispering something into Zhou Qin's ear.

    After a moment, the pair started walking towards the elevator.

    "Maybe they made up?" Su Chan suggested.

    Li Yundong frowned. Something felt off.

    Someone patted Li Yundong's shoulder.

    Li Yundong turned and jumped in surprise.

    "Oh, hey! It's you! What are you doing here?"


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  • Chapter 147 This Is What Real Kung-Fu Looks Like!

    "Here," Li Yundong said, putting the thermos back into the waiter's palm. "You better put that away before someone gets hurt."

    The waiter nodded stupidly and held on the thermos with both hands.

    "Impressive," Shi Neng said, clapping his hands a few times. "It appears that you have fully mastered the art of Qi control. Impressive indeed."

    Li Yundong ignored the praise and began scanning the banquet hall for President Cao. He was in charge of President Cao's personal safety tonight, so he couldn't afford to be distracted by meaningless showboating.

    Li Yundong located President Cao in a far corner of the hall. She appeared to be chatting animatedly with some guy. Alright, then. Time to ditch these people and get back to work—

    "How about we do some point sparring?" Shi Neng said.

    Li Yundong stared at Shi Neng through narrowed eyes. "I'd rather not cause a scene if you don't mind." He glanced in President Cao's direction. President Cao appeared to be totally engrossed in her conversation. Li Yundong take a step back. "Now if you'll excuse me—"

    Li Yundong reacted instantly the moment he felt a strong pressure on his wrist. He dropped his elbow low, then swung his forearm in an upward arc while stepping forward and to the side—at about 45 degrees—of Shi Neng.

    Li Yundong's movements caused Shi Neng's arm to twist into an awkward angle around the elbow and shoulder joints. Shi Neng hissed, but he still didn't let go of Li Yundong's wrist.

    Li Yundong's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "From what I've seen, you're clearly an experienced martial artist." Li Yundong's cold gaze zeroed in on Shi Neng's pained expression. "So you must know that this is a Chin Na joint lock."

    The entire hall was now silent except for Shi Neng's heavy breathing.

    "You're lucky that I didn't break your arm," Li Yundong said after the brief pause. "Consider this mercy." Li Yundong raised his free hand, then struck Shi Neng's forearm, pulling his arm free at the same time. Shi Neng yelped and stumbled backwards. A few guys—who were clearly Shi Neng's acquaintances—moved in to prevent Shi Neng from falling flat onto his ass, but everyone else seemed too stunned to move.

    Li Yundong smoothed out the sleeves of his jacket. "Are we done here?"

    When nobody answered, Li Yundong turned towards Guo Peng and stepped into his personal space. He patted Guo Peng's chest a few times. "I suggest you do more research before you start making claims about what real Kung-Fu looks like, pal."

    Ignoring Guo Peng's gobsmacked expression, Li Yundong turned towards Su Chan.

    "Come on, princess. Let's get outta here."

    "Oh," Su Chan said.

    Li Yundong took her hand led her towards President Cao.

    ***

    "Where on earth did you find a guy like that, President Cao?"

    Cao Kefei turned away from the crowd and focused her attention on Director Zhang, who seemed impressed by how Li Yundong had handled Shi Neng's challenge.

    Suddenly, Director Zhang chuckled. "Well. Looks like your boy over there has some problems getting along with Shi Neng."

    Cao Kefei followed Director Zhang's gaze and noticed Li Yundong twisting Shi Neng's arm into a weird angle. A second later, Shi Neng was stumbling backwards into the arms of several guys. Cao Kefei smiled. "That's normal I suppose. They're both hot-blooded young men, after all."

    Director Zhang slapped his thigh. "Dang! Too bad we didn't manage to capture what he did on camera..." He lowered his voice to a mumble. "I bet my team would love to have that on tape..."

    Smiling, Cao Kefei said nothing and took a sip from her flute. She didn't have to say much, to be honest. From she was seeing, Director Zhang was pretty much sold on Li Yundong's potential to become a super star.

    "You know..." Director Zhang's pensive voice made Cao Kefei lower her flute.

    Cao Kefei smiled. "Yes, director?"

    "It's quite common for great martial artists to get a movie role..." Director Zhang said.

    Bingo!

    Admittedly, there was a hidden agenda behind Cao Kefei's assignment for Li Yundong tonight. Well, in her defense, she really did need Li Yundong here to keep her safe—she was still receiving death threats every now and then—and to act as her bodyguard. But of course that wasn't the only reason she'd given Li Yundong this assignment. The other reason was to expose Li Yundong to the world of showbiz. With his looks and abilities, it was just a matter of time before Li Yundong caught someone's attention, preferably someone with deep pockets.

    Director Zhang was just the first of many. Of that, Cao Kefei had no doubt.

    If she played her cards right, Li Yundong would rise into stardom very soon. And if she could get Li Yundong to sign a contract with Huasheng Studios...

    "Boss!"

    Cao Kefei whirled around and saw Li Yundong and Su Chan heading over towards her.

    Speak of the devil... Cao Kefei shared a glance with Director Zhang, then gave Li Yundong a smile.

    "Yes?" Cao Kefei said once Li Yundong stopped in front of them. "What is it?"

    "Is it okay for Su Chan to grab a bite?" Li Yundong pointed towards the long table where the food was served. Suddenly, Li Yundong leaned in and lowered his voice into a whisper. "I mean, I know I'm supposed to be on duty. But Su Chan is hungry..."

    Cao Kefei chuckled. "By all means. If she wants to eat, I've got no problems with that."

    Li Yundong smiled brightly and gave her a nod. "Thanks, boss."

    After that, Li Yundong led Su Chan away again.

    "My God..." Director Zhang whispered.

    Cao Kefei turned her head slightly and regarded the director. The director's slack-jawed expression looked a little funny, so Cao Kefei followed his gaze. Director Zhang was staring after Su Chan.

    A smirk tugged Cao Kefei's lips. Looks like I've picked the right dress for the girl. Not that Su Chan needed a dress to make her look good. Even in normal clothes, the girl exuded beauty in spades.

    "Hell… President Cao… If we can sign them both..." Director Zhang mumbled, still staring at the leaving couple.

    Cao Kefei took another sip from her flute. "All in good time, director," she said. "All in good time."

    ***

    "Oww! Meanie! You stepped on my foot!"

    Li Yundong smiled and pinched Su Chan's cheek. "Oops. Sorry. Didn't do it on purpose."

    After squeezing their way through a huge crowd of well-dressed people, they had finally arrived at the long table.

    "It was totally on purpose, you meanie!"

    Li Yundong laughed when Su Chan made a face at him.

    "Alright, alright. Quit messing around and let's go grab a plate. You must be starving." He took her hand and started pulling her towards the table.

    "Of course I'm starv—"

    Li Yundong felt a resistance in his hand, as though Su Chan had stopped following him. Li Yundong turned around with a frown. "What's wrong...?"

    Su Chan's was pointing towards the banquet hall's entrance. "Hey... Isn't that Zhou Qin?"

    Li Yundong looked in the direction of the entrance.

    "I thought they hated each other now…" Li Yundong said, not taking his eyes off the entrance.

    Through the open door, Li Yundong saw Zhou Qin and Ding Nan standing in close proximity to each other. Ding Nan was whispering something into Zhou Qin's ear.

    After a moment, the pair started walking towards the elevator.

    "Maybe they made up?" Su Chan suggested.

    Li Yundong frowned. Something felt off.

    Someone patted Li Yundong's shoulder.

    Li Yundong turned and jumped in surprise.

    "Oh, hey! It's you! What are you doing here?"


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  • Chapter 148 Double-Crossed!

    Li Yundong stared at the girl in front of him. With her hair pulled into a tight bun and her slim figure wrapped in a beige waitress uniform, Deng Yu looked totally different.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat. "What are you doing here?" Li Yundong shook his head slightly. Admittedly, he was having a hard time reconciling this woman with the one he'd met in front of MacDonald's.

    Deng Yu, on the other hand, seemed more amused than surprised to see him here.

    "Isn't it obvious why I'm here?" Deng Yu gestured at her uniform, then grinned at him. "Here's an even more interesting question. What are you doing here?"

    Li Yundong shook himself out of his stupor and pointed at President Cao. "Oh. I'm here on a job for President Cao."

    A look of surprise flitted across Deng Yu's features. "Y- You're working for President Cao?"

    Li Yundong smiled. "Yep. I'm her security detail tonight."

    Li Yundong cast a glance at President Cao. It wasn't too difficult to keep President Cao in his line of sight since she hadn't moved away from her position earlier.

    Deng Yu made a sound of approval. "Ooh. Right. You know, back at the cafeteria, I've been wondering about how you and President Cao got acquainted with one another and—Oh, hi, Su Chan!"

    Deng Yu gave Su Chan a wave.

    "Hi..." Su Chan mumbled incoherently. She was still staring at the hall's entrance.

    What on earth is she staring at?

    Li Yundong followed Su Chan's gaze and saw Ding Nan and Zhou Qin stepping into the elevator.

    Looks like those two have finally mended fences and—

    "Well! I suppose it makes sense!" Deng Yu said, bringing Li Yundong's back to their conversation.

    Li Yundong frowned in confusion. "What does?"

    "Oh, I mean the fact that you're President Cao's bodyguard tonight." Deng Yu chuckled, then gestured with her hands. "I mean what with those badass moves you have..."

    Li Yundong laughed, then looked around the banquet hall. He hadn't detected any threats so far. As far as he could tell, things looked pretty secure. The attendees had already returned to their conversations or whatever it was that they'd been doing before that little "demo" between him and Shi Neng earlier.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat. "So. This is your other part-time job, right?" Li Yundong studied Deng Yu's expression. "The one you mentioned at the cafeteria this afternoon?"

    Deng Yu's face broke into a huge grin. "Oh, yeah! We got kinda lucky when we landed this one. I mean it was a total coincidence. You see, the other day, I saw a flyer saying that Shengyuan Hotel is looking to hire part-time waitresses when I was, guess what, giving out fliers on the streets. Funny, right? Seeing a flyer while giving out fliers." Deng Yu laughed at her own joke.

    Li Yundong's mind was focused on something else Deng Yu had mentioned.

    "Did you say we?"

    Deng Yu's eyes widened as though she'd just remembered something. "Oh, that's right! My sister's here too!" She suddenly turned and waved at someone at another corner of the hall. Li Yundong turned and saw Deng Jiao waving back at them shyly.

    "We both got the job!" Deng Yu said proudly.

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Congratulations, then." It must pay pretty well to work at a place as posh as Shengyuan Hotel.

    Deng Yu nodded with zest. "Mm-hmm! Anyway! I gotta get back to work now. Enjoy the party. I'll catch up with you guys later!" Deng Yu gave him a wave and hurried off.

    Li Yundong glanced down at Su Chan.

    Princess Chipmunk was still staring at the entrance. A deep frown marred her beautiful features.

    "Hey, what's wrong?"

    Su Chan shook her head distractedly. "Something's wrong with her..." she mumbled.

    "What? With whom?" Li Yundong followed Su Chan's gaze. Zhou Qin was nowhere to be seen.

    Li Yundong gave Su Chan a curious look. "You mean Zhou Qin?"

    To his surprise, Su Chan shook her head.

    "No," Su Chan said. "With Ding Nan."

    ***

    Inside the elevator, Ding Nan stared at the half-conscious woman leaning against her shoulder for support. A devious glint shone in Ding Nan's eyes. Second later, a derisive laugh escaped her lips.

    "I can't believe you're that naive, Zhou Qin." Ding Nan shook her head in amusement. "You knew how much I hate your guts, yet you barely hesitated to take the drink I offered to you..."

    "Damn... you..."

    Ding Nan laughed smugly. "You were overconfident, Zhou Qin. You shouldn't have come running the moment I called you." There was a brief pause. Ding Nan turned her head slightly to stare at Zhou Qin. "Do you know what I'm going to do to you later, hmm?"

    "D... Ding... Nan... S- Stop this... mad...ness... or you... you'll... get... get into... trouble..." Zhou Qin slurred.

    "Trouble? Hah!" The sounds of Ding Nan's laughter echoed inside the elevator car. "Oh, no, no, Zhou Qin. My actions won't lead me into trouble. It's the opposite, you see! Trust me. Everyone will praise me for what I did. Including that powerful father of yours!"

    All was silent in the elevator until a loud ding announced their arrival at the intended floor. Ding Nan smirked when the doors slid open. "Looks like we're here."

    The two women stumbled out of the elevator with Ding Nan half-dragging Zhou Qin's limp form. They moved slowly, stopping only when they reached the door of Room 1503. Ding Nan raised her knuckles and knocked on the door a few times.

    The door opened seconds later to reveal a man sporting a dark scowl on his face.

    "Took you long enough," He Shao growled.

    Ding Nan rolled her eyes. "What did you expect? You think it's easy to carry her all the way here? Now quit standing around and help me move her inside."

    He Shao cleared the doorway, allowing Ding Nan to step into the room. Moments later, Ding Nan dumped Zhou Qin onto the bed with He Shao lingering somewhere behind her.

    Ding Nan crouched down and patted Zhou Qin's cheek a few times.

    Zhou Qin's eyes opened slightly.

    Ding Nan smirked. "Take a good look, Zhou Qin. This"—Ding Nan pointed at He Shao standing behind her—"is your fiancé!"

    Ding Nan rose to her feet, then plopped down beside Zhou Qin on the bed.

    Ding Nan crossed her legs and gave He Shao a smug look.

    "There," Ding Nan said. "I brought the woman here for you. You can do as you please with her." She smirked. "Just don't forget to give me my full payment."

    He Shao stood beside the bed, holding his chin with his thumb and index finger. Although he hadn't said a word, his eyes were darting back and forth between Zhou Qin and Ding Nan.

    "Y- You're out of your mind, Ding Nan!" Zhou Qin's angry voice filled the room.

    Ding Nan threw her head back in laughter. "Out of my mind? Oh, I don't think so, Zhou Qin." Ding Nan suddenly bent over and held Zhou Qin's chin with her thumb and index fingers. Then, Ding Nan lowered her voice into a menacing growl. "How about a taste of your own medicine, you manipulative bitch!"

    "A- Aren't you afraid of the consequences?" Zhou Qin said through gritted teeth. "You actually think you can walk away freely a- after what you've done...?"

    Ding Nan burst into laughter again. She took out a bundle of cash from her handbag. "See this?" Ding Nan waved the bundle in front of Zhou Qin's face. "This is the money He Shao promised me for this job. I'll get my full payment once the job is complete. Oh, and about these consequences you mentioned..." Ding Nan smirked. "I have nothing to worry about. What, you think your father will punish me for pushing you into He Shao's arms? Why would he do that when that's the very thing he wanted for you all along! If anything, he'll reward me, not punish me!"

    The haze in Zhou Qin's eyes began to clear a little. "You… I never expected you to be capable of something so evil and conniving, Ding Nan!"

    Ding Nan's eyes flashed in anger. "Evil?! You're calling me evil?! Have you forgotten what happened back on the rooftop? You're the one who let me die just so you could live!"

    "You never cared about me!" Ding Nan shouted. "I was never your friend! You were just using me like a pawn!"

    Ding Nan's hand rose to slap Zhou Qin. However, a set of fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist before her blow could connect. Ding Nan turned and saw He Shao shaking his head at her.

    A devious glint formed on He Shao's face. "You're not allowed to damage her pretty face..."

    Ding Nan yanked her wrist free, then stared down at Zhou Qin coldly. "Enjoy your night then, you bitch. Scream and yell all you want. Nobody will come save you... ahh… ugh..."

    Ding Nan's body went limp.

    ***

    When He Shao's roaring laughter permeated the room, Zhou Qin decided to drop the whole act. She sat up slowly and stared down at Ding Nan, who was now sprawled across the large bed. Ding Nan was shaking her head and blinking her eyes rapidly, no doubt trying to stay awake.

    Zhou Qin rose from the mattress. Almost at the same time, she heard a gasp from Ding Nan. Zhou Qin glanced down and saw Ding Nan staring back at her. Disbelief filled Ding Nan's hazy eyes, along with a look of dejection and defeat. Zhou Qin had seen that look in Ding Nan's eyes before. The hopelessness. The helplessness

    A crushing wave of guilt coursed through Zhou Qin. Stop feeling sorry for her! She tried to betray you! said a voice inside her head. Zhou Qin shut her eyes and took a deep breath. A moment later, she opened her eyes again.

    "You must be feeling rather confused, Ding Nan," Zhou Qin said coldly, "as to why I'm the one standing while you're the one lying down."

    "I- It w- was all just an act...?" Ding Nan whimpered. "D- Damn y- you..."

    Anger coursed through Zhou Qin. How dare Ding Nan betray her? How dare Ding Nan do this to her when Zhou Qin had tried to save both of their lives that day on the rooftop? How dare she! How dare she do this to me!

    Contrary to what Ding Nan's deluded mind might believe, Zhou Qin had never intended to let Ding Nan jump off the rooftop. No. She'd never do that to Ding Nan. The truth was that Zhou Qin actually had a plan to save both of their lives that day. All she needed was for Ding Nan to play along and pretend to agree to be the one to jump off the roof. Zhou Qin would then goad Zhao Yujian into pushing Ding Nan off the roof himself. Then, when Zhao Yujian got close enough to the ledge, Zhou Qin and Ding Nan would work together and push Zhao Yujian off the roof instead.

    It was a good plan. And it would've worked if Ding Nan had enough wits about her to listen to what Zhou Qin was trying so hard to tell her. Instead, Ding Nan had panicked and kept backing away when Zhou Qin tried to approach her. That idiot had no doubt assumed that Zhou Qin was approaching her in order to push her off the ledge when in fact Zhou Qin was merely trying to get close enough to whisper the details of her plan into Ding Nan's ear.

    "W- What... did... did… you do to… to me..." Ding Nan's garbled voice interrupted Zhou Qin's thoughts.

    "Giving you a taste of your own medicine," Zhou Qin snapped. "Literally." The drug He Shao had supplied Ding Nan for her little scheme was fake—painkillers crushed into powder form. However, Zhou Qin had played along to see how far Ding Nan would go to exact her revenge upon her and also to figure out what other tricks Ding Nan had up her sleeves.

    "W- When d- did… did you..." Ding Nan mumbled.

    Zhou Qin snorted. "It doesn't matter when I drugged you." Zhou Qin regarded Ding Nan coldly. "I really underestimated you, Ding Nan. Approaching He Shao for help to get rid of me?" Zhou Qin laughed humorlessly. "Has it never occurred to you that He Shao might double-cross you? That He Shao might take my side instead of yours?"

    Ding Nan struggled to turn her head to look at He Shao. "Y- You... bastard..."

    "Yes, that's right," Zhou Qin said. "He Shao called and warned me about your little scheme the same day you cut this deal with him. Otherwise, I'd never have imagined you to be capable of an atrocious act like this!"

    To Zhou Qin's surprise, Ding Nan's eyes no longer looked hazy when they suddenly shot open. Instead, venom leaked out of those eyes as they glared daggers at He Shao. "He Shao! Why! Why did you double-cross me! You wanted Zhou Qin, so I gave her to you!"

    He Shao started laughing as though he'd just been told the funniest joke in existence. Ignoring the madman, Zhou Qin started scanning her eyes along Ding Nan's body. Ding Nan should be out cold by now. Why was she still awake? Seconds later, she saw it. Ding Nan's palm was bleeding. She had dug her nails into her palm so hard that it bled and used the pain to stay awake.

    Zhou Qin felt a tug in her chest. Whether she liked it or not, Zhou Qin had to admit that Ding Nan was a little bit like her—too stubborn to bend to anyone's will.

    He Shao stopped laughing and begun to stroke his chin. "Oh, Ding Nan... Ding Nan... You think you know Zhou Qin well, but the truth is, I know her far better than you do. In fact..." Zhou Qin suddenly felt He Shao's gaze on her. "There's nobody on earth who knows her better than I do."

    Zhou Qin felt her skin crawl.

    He Shao laughed derisively. "You've also underestimated my intelligence, Ding Nan. Do you actually think I'm stupid enough to go along with your plan? There's only one thing that would happen if I force myself on her." He Shao paused as though he was about to make some kind of grand revelation. "Zhou Qin would just kill herself." He Shao chuckled. "Oh, yes, she would. She'd rather die than go through with our marriage. A woman as headstrong as Zhou Qin would never allow anyone to force her into doing something against her will... Anyway, her death won't benefit me at all." He Shao snorted. "Uncle Zhou would just blame me, and when that happens, I'm screwed. My family would rather cut me off than lose Uncle Zhou's alliance."

    He Shao pulled out a chair and sat down. "You might not know this, but Zhou Qin and I grew up together at the Municipal Council's Headquarters, so I know how strong-willed she is..." He Shao sighed.

    "Enough, He Shao..." Zhou Qin growled.

    He Shao ignored her and kept talking. "You wanna know what happened when she was ten, Ding Nan?" He chuckled. "Uncle Zhou wanted to move into Tiannan City, but Zhou Qin refused to go. In the end, Uncle Zhou had to tie her up and stuffed her into the backseat. But guess what happened?" He Shao laughed loudly. "Uncle Zhou found Zhou Qin covered in blood when they arrived at Tiannan City. She had bitten off the rope used to tie her up. She even lost a tooth in the process—"

    "Enough! Stop your babbling!" Zhou Qin snapped, then glanced at Ding Nan on the bed. "I'll leave her to you. Do whatever you want with her."

    Zhou Qin stormed towards the door as He Shao's lecherous laughter sounded behind her back.

    Ding Nan's screams echoed in the hotel room, stilling Zhou Qin's hand on the door handle. Zhou Qin bit down her lip. This didn't feel right. None of this felt right.

    "Don't touch me! Don't touch me, you filthy animal!!!"

    Images flashed inside Zhou Qin's mind. She remembered the way Li Yundong had stepped forward to defend his enemy—and his mother—from He Shao's thugs. She also remembered the way Li Yundong had risked his life to save both Ding Nan and her own life during Zhao Yujian's crusade. What drove Li Yundong to such acts? Er Lu had wronged Li Yundong several times, yet Li Yundong had gone up against a bunch of pipe-wielding thugs to save him. Ding Nan was nothing but mean towards Li Yundong at the beginning, and yet Li Yundong had risked his life to save her. How? How could so much honor be found in one human being?

    What would Li Yundong think if Zhou Qin let Ding Nan be violated like this?

    "Zhou Qin!!!" Ding Nan screamed again. "You f*cking bitch! Ahhhh!!!!"

    There was a loud slap.

    "Quiet!" He Shao yelled. "You're mine tonight! So you might as well enjoy the ride!"

    Ding Nan continued to scream at the top of her lungs.

    "Zhou Qin! Even if I die tonight, I'll haunt you for the rest of your f*cking live!"

    Zhou Qin clenched her jaw and released her grip on the door handle. Without further ado, she turned around and stormed past the lounge area and headed straight to the en suite bedroom.

    "Ahhh!!! Stop! Go away! Don't touch me!!!" Ding Nan screamed. "Don't you dare touch me, you son of a bitch!"

    Zhou Qin increased her pace, then yanked open the bedroom door the moment its handle was within reach.

    "Stop!!!" Zhou Qin yelled. "Let her go!"

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  • Chapter 149 The Most Powerful Cultivator of the Younger Generation!

    Zhou Qin glared at He Shao, who now had one hand inside Ding Nan's skirt. His other hand had slipped under Ding Nan's blouse and was now fondling Ding Nan's breast.

    Zhou Qin clenched her jaw.

    "I said stop!" Zhou Qin growled.

    That finally did the trick.

    He Shao stopped what he was doing and looked up at Zhou Qin.

    Zhou Qin approached the bed slowly, her glare never once leaving He Shao's face.

    "What is the meaning of this eh, Zhou Qin? I thought we had a deal," He Shao said once Zhou Qin had stopped beside the bed.

    "I changed my mind."

    "What!"

    "Let. Her. Go," Zhou Qin said in an icy tone.

    He Shao released Ding Nan and leaped up from the bed. "Are you out of your goddamn mind—"

    SMACK!

    Oh boy, that felt good. She'd been wanting to do that for a long, long time.

    Zhou Qin glared at He Shao, who was holding his left cheek. His expression was that of utter disbelief.

    "Y- You... You slapped me..."

    Zhou Qin shoved He Shao aside and reached for one of Ding Nan's arms. Then, she pulled until Ding Nan's torso rose into a sitting position on the bed.

    "Hang in there, okay?" Zhou Qin whispered into Ding Nan's ear. Then, she slung Ding Nan's arm around her shoulders. "Now get up and walk."

    Zhou Qin rose from the bed, pulling Ding Nan with her. When Ding Nan complied without any resistance, Zhou Qin sighed inwardly. Thank God she can still stand up.

    Otherwise, Zhou Qin had no idea how to get Ding Nan out of there without drawing unnecessary attention. Calling the hotel staff for help would just be a scandal waiting to happen: Deputy Director Zhou's daughter caught her fiancé spending the night with another young woman, who also happened to be her close friends.

    The reporters were going to have a field day.  

    At the bedroom door, Zhou Qin came to a halt and glanced over at He Shao. "I suggest you clean up your act, He Shao." Zhou Qin gave him a cold stare. "Like I said, no evil deed goes unpunished. I'd watch my back if I were you."

    Then, Zhou Qin dragged Ding Nan out of the room without waiting for He Shao's response. The truth was that Zhou Qin wanted to get out of the room as soon as possible. She couldn't stand the sight of He Shao. The man gave her the creeps, and that was saying something because Zhou Qin could literally count on her fingers the number of things that frightened her. Case in point: she could stare down gangsters and murderers without batting an eye.

    Gangsters and murderers were one thing. But He Shao? That man was another kind of evil. One of the worst kind.  

    Zhou Qin made it out of Room 1503 without much difficulty. Outside the door, a sniffing sound made her stop. She turned her head and realized that Ding Nan had begun crying. Then, as though sensing Zhou Qin's gaze on her, Ding Nan glared at her.

    "Don't think I'd start feeling indebted to you just because you came back for me..."

    "I don't care about your gratitude," Zhou Qin snapped and kept walking forward. Liar, a voice inside her head supplemented. The truth was that Zhou Qin cared. Despite the initial deal they'd made with each other, Zhou Qin had really come to care for Ding Nan. Not that Ding Nan would know, since Zhou Qin had never overtly showed that she cared.

    Ding Nan no doubt thought that Zhou Qin was just a heartless bitch who only saw Ding Nan as nothing but a pawn. That, however, couldn't be further than the truth. Ding Nan had no idea how many times Zhou Qin had saved her ass over the years. No idea.

    If Zhou Qin truly didn't care, she wouldn't have added a special clause in their agreement stating that Ding Nan should never—under any circumstances—sell her body for Zhou Qin. If Zhou Qin truly didn't care, would she have intervened every time those sleazy men tried to sleep with Ding Nan? Granted, her interventions were done in the shadows without anyone's knowledge. But still, Ding Nan would've noticed it if she wasn't so blinded by her own hatred and jealousy.

    They trudged along the long hallway, walking past door after door.

    "M- M- Mark my words..." Ding Nan mumbled. "I'll destroy you the next ch- chance I get..."

    A stab of hurt shot through Zhou Qin's chest, but she clenched her jaw and ignored it.

    "Bring it on then," Zhou Qin said. "I can take whatever you dish out."

    Finally, they reached the elevators. Zhou Qin slapped the elevator call button and waited until a ding announced the elevator's arrival. They stumbled into the elevator. When the doors slid shut, Zhou Qin hesitated for a moment before she pressed number 18.

    They rode in silence until the elevator doors opened to the eighteenth floor a minute later.

    Zhou Qin dragged Ding Nan out of the elevator, stopping in front of the elevator. She craned her neck and stared along the long hallway. If I'm not mistaken, there should be a few staff doing rounds on this floor... There!

    "Excuse me!" Zhou Qin yelled.

    A man in uniform paused in the hallway and did a double take.

    "Yes? Can I help you, miss?"

    Zhou Qin waved at the man.

    The man pushed the cart over and stopped in front of them. "Is everything alright, miss?" he asked, eyeing Ding Nan warily.

    Zhou Qin offered a gold card to the man and said, "I need you to give me access to a room. This lady here is unwell."

    The man bowed slightly, though he didn't take the card. "I'm terribly sorry, miss. The hotel's policy requires that you present your identity documents at the concierge's counter to make a formal booking—"

    "Just do as I say!" Zhou Qin snapped. The man flinched at Zhou Qin's sharp tone and stared back at her in shock.

    Zhou Qin shut her eyes and took a deep breath.

    "Please..." Zhou Qin said in a calmer tone. "This is an emergency. My friend here is unwell, and she needs to lie down immediately. I'll go down the reception as soon as I get her settled in a room."

    The man's face softened. "Alright, miss. Come this way."

    ***

    "Arrrrggghhh! F*ck you, Zhou Qin!" He Shao grabbed the lamp beside the bed and smashed it against the wall. "F*ck! F*ck! F*ck!!!!!"

    Another series of crash sounded as He Shao began to smash any object he could find in the bedroom: the tea cups; the tea pot; the saucers; the phone; the TV remote; the ashtray.

    At one point, He Shao picked up a chair and hurled it towards the TV mounted on the wall. A loud crash sounded followed by He Shao's angry roar.

    "F*ck! Why do you always have to get in my way, Zhou Qin! Why!"

    Just then, the bedroom door swung open, and the hotel's senior manager rushed inside.

    "H- He Shao... What is the matter?" the manager asked in a careful tone.

    He Shao turned around abruptly and glared at the manager.

    "What's the matter with me? You have to f*cking ask?"

    The manager flinched slightly.

    "Arrrggh!! I'm f*cking angry is what it is! F*ck!!!!" He Shao slammed his fist against the wall.

    "P- Please calm yourself, He Shao," said the hotel manager in an—no doubt futile—attempt in placation. "You need to mind your health. It's not worth sacrificing your health over this matter, whatever it is."

    He Shao huffed loudly and gave the manager a dismissive wave. "Get out of here and leave me the f*ck alone!"

    "He Shao..." the hotel manager said in a careful tone. "May I ask who made you this angry? Maybe I can help you deal with them, whoever they are."

    Those word managed to grab He Shao's attention. He Shao suddenly turned his head to regard the hotel manager curiously. Seconds later, a contemptuous smile formed on He Shao's face. "The likes of you? Deal with him?" He Shao laughed derisively. "Trust me, that guy could end you with just a finger."

    The manager bowed slightly. "In that case, is there anything else I can do for you He Shao? Although I'm just a lowly manager, there are still a few errands that I can run for you. Who knows they might help soothe your anger."

    He Shao yanked his collar a few times. "Bring two girls to me."

    The hotel manager smiled. "Ah. Two girls, you say? Right away, sir."

    "And I want new faces this time!" He Shao snapped. "I'm bored with most of your female staff already!"

    The hotel manager's eyes widened slightly as though he'd just remembered something. Slowly, the manager approached He Shao and whispered something into his ear.

    Seconds later, He Shao's eyes glinted brightly.

    "Twins, you said? Hah! Not bad! Bring them here!"

    The hotel manager smiled. "Right away, sir."

    Ten minutes later, the manager returned to the room with a conflicted look on his face.

    "He Shao... The twins refused to come..."

    He Shao sprang to his feet. "What the f*ck did you say?!"

    The hotel manager flinched. "The twins are actually university students. They're our new part-time employees. Today is their first day on the job—"

    "Shut the f*ck up, you motherf*cker!" He Shao pointed a finger at the manager's face. "Do you know that over 99% of the women in this building started out as prostitutes? You think I have no idea that this entire f*cking hotel is just a brothel for high-ranking government officials?" He Shao laughed derisively. "How the f*ck do you think Shengyuan Hotel managed to last until today without being shut down by the police, hmm?" He Shao suddenly pointed a thumb at himself. "Yeah, that's right. Because of me. For years, I'm the one who's been covering up for you dumbasses! And now you're telling me that you can't even do one thing right for me? Seriously? Not even one thing right? After everything I did for you in the past?" He Shao shook his head in disgust. "Try again! I don't care what means you use. Just bring me the twins."

    The hotel manager bowed. "Y- Yes, He Shao. Right away."

    ***

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan's slightly bulging tummy. Granted, Su Chan hadn't wolfed down all the food on the table, but she still came pretty close. Li Yundong chuckled and gave Su Chan's stomach a few not-too-gentle pokes.

    Su Chan burped.

    Li Yundong's gaze snapped to Su Chan's face, where a rosy tint had formed.

    "S- S- Sorry..." Su Chan mumbled.

    Li Yundong chuckled and glanced down at her stomach again. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Look at the size of that tummy," he said jokingly. "How many months pregnant?"

    Su Chan pressed a finger under her chin. "Hmm..."

    Li Yundong grinned at her.

    "Three months!" Su Chan announced proudly, then gave Li Yundong a playful glance. "You must take responsibility for me and our child, beloved."

    Li Yundong feigned a look of surprise. "Three months, you say?"

    Su Chan bobbed her head up and down. "Mm-hmm! Mm-hmm!"

    Something warm bloomed inside Li Yundong's heart. Cute. So damn cute...

    Li Yundong nodded as though he was impressed by the knowledge. "Three months, huh?" Li Yundong smiled and leaned his ear against her tummy. "Let's see if I can hear the baby kicking."

    Su Chan giggled and smacked Li Yundong's head. "You dummy!" She giggled some more. "The baby would only be thumb-sized at three months!"

    Li Yundong rose to his feet and feigned an affronted look. He narrowed his eyes and tickled Su Chan's side. "Well, you seem to know a lot about pregnancies. Tell me the truth..." he growled playfully. "Who the heck is the father, hmm?"

    Su Chan giggled and tried to twist away from his touch, but Li Yundong pulled her into his arms.

    Su Chan yelped, then glanced around warily. "L- Let me go... P- People... People are watching..."

    Who cares if people are watching? Li Yundong was here to keep President Cao safe, not to impress a bunch of snobs. As long as he didn't let President Cao out of his sight, he could tease Su Chan all he wanted.

    The alarm bells rang inside Li Yundong's head the moment he felt Su Chan's body tense up in his arms. He glanced down worriedly. "Hey, what's the matter?"

    Su Chan's face was now drained of color and her lips were quivering. "Oh, God... Oh, God..."

    Li Yundong's blood ran cold. "Hey!" he hissed, shaking Su Chan's shoulders. "Are you okay?"

    Su Chan stared up at him with hazy eyes. She looked like she was about to pass out, or have a panic attack.

    "D- Divine..."

    Li Yundong felt his stomach drop. "What?"

    "D- Divine Aura..."

    Li Yundong's scalp tingled, and he started scanning the room for threats. Was Ruan Hongling here? Was—

    "Oh God, she's here... She's here for me." Su Chan hid herself inside Li Yundong's arms.

    "Ruan Hongling?" Li Yundong kept looking around. "But I don't see her?"

    "Not her," Su Chan whispered. "Ruan Hongling is just a small fly compared to her..."

    Li Yundong clenched his jaw. "Okay. Then we gotta leave now. I'll tell President Cao right now and we can—"

    Su Chan shook her head and gave Li Yundong a look of grave resignation.

    "It's pointless, Yundong. We won't be able to outrun her. She's too powerful. She's not widely acknowledged as the most powerful Cultivator of the younger generation for nothing."

    "We have to try," Li Yundong said and started making a beeline towards the entrance.

    However, he had barely taken two steps before a voice behind his back made him stop.

    "So we finally meet, Jindan's Heir."

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  • Chapter 150 Powerful Enemies

    Li Yundong whirled around and saw a woman in an elegant white dress. A feminine fragrance assaulted his nose. Only then did Li Yundong realize that the woman was already standing a few feet away. The scent reminded him of flowers. Roses, to be exact.

    Wariness crept in. Li Yundong clenched his jaw and took a step back, shielding Su Chan with his body. The banquet hall had grown quiet, and everyone's attention seemed to be focused on them. Li Yundong scanned for possible escape routes. They had to get out of here fast. If Ruan Hongling was nothing compared to this woman, then they had to get the f*ck out of here and run as though their lives depended on it. Heck, for all he knew, their lives literally depended on it.

    "At ease..." That voice sounded again. Li Yundong stopped his survey of the room and glanced at the woman.

    "You are Li Yundong?"

    Li Yundong tensed up slightly. "Yes. And you are?"

    "Zi Yuan," the woman answered casually.

    "Zi Yuan..." Su Chan whispered softly so that only Li Yundong could hear her. "Zhenren Zi Yuan from the Zhengyi School's Linggong Sect... Oh, God..."

    Li Yundong subtly pinched Su Chan leg to get her to stay quiet.

    "The prodigy who reached the Huaying phase at just twenty years old..." Su Chan kept whispering.

    "Hello, Miss Zi Yuan," Li Yundong said, pinching Su Chan again. "How can I help you?"

    "Like I said, at ease… I'm not here to fight you." Zi Yuan smirked. "You and Su Chan would be long dead by now if I really wanted to attack you."

    Chills travelled down Li Yundong's spine. He steeled his mind and met Zi Yuan's gaze steadily. "You'll have to go over my dead body if you want to get to Su Chan."

    Li Yundong felt movement behind his back. Before he knew it, Su Chan poked her head out from his shoulder. "I stole the Renyuan Jindan... P- Please let... let Yundong go!"

    Li Yundong turned around and glared at Su Chan. "Shush!"

    Su Chan removed herself from Li Yundong's grip and stepped around his body to face Zi Yuan once more.

    "It... It's the truth," Su Chan said, jutting her chin out. "I own up to my actions." Su Chan met Zi Yuan's gaze, though Li Yundong could see that his little chipmunk was shaking all over. "Isn't that why you've been looking for me? Because of the Renyuan Jindan?"

    Silence spread between them. Then, Zi Yuan smiled. "Do you actually think you could hide from me if I really wanted to capture you, Su Chan?"

    Su Chan turned her head abruptly towards Li Yundong.

    "Also," Zi Yuan continued, "you never would've gotten away with the Renyuan Jindan if it wasn't for your master."

    Su Chan's face went pale.

    Zi Yuan smirked. "Still think I'm here to harm you?"

    Li Yundong had had enough. "Then why are you here?" he said in a sharp tone.

    "To confirm something," Zi Yuan answered cryptically.

    Li Yundong studied Zi Yuan for a few moments. "And what kind of confirmation are you seeking?"

    Zi Yuan didn't answer. She seemed lost in her own thoughts.

    Li Yundong frowned. "If there's nothing else important, then we're leaving." He took Su Chan's hand. "Come on, Su Chan—"

    "Wait," Zi Yuan said in a tone that bore no room for argument.

    Li Yundong stopped and looked at Zi Yuan again.

    "Regarding what I wanted to confirm, that's none of your business." Zi Yuan's eyes darted to Su Chan briefly. "Besides, you wouldn't understand even if I tell you."

    Li Yundong gave Zi Yuan a cold stare. "So this is about the Jindan, then? You're here to take it back?"

    Zi Yuan smiled. "No. I'm not here to reclaim the Jindan. I know you already consumed it. I can't take it back unless..." Zi Yuan let her words hang. "Anyway, reclaiming the Jindan is no longer on the table, so—"

    "Then what do you want from us?" Li Yundong cut in sharply.

    Zi Yuan glanced around. "Let's talk elsewhere." Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look. "Follow me."

    Zi Yuan moved towards the exit.

    Li Yundong watched her leave for a moment before he moved to follow.

    Someone grabbed her sleeves. He turned and saw Su Chan shaking her head at him, pleading with him with her large watery eyes. "Don't... Don't go, Yundong. It's a trap. She just wants to take you to a secluded place to attack you!"

    Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head. "We can't avoid this forever, you know?" He sighed. "How about you stay here? I'll go talk to her and see what she wants. Don't worry, I'll make sure there'll be people around where we talk."

    "No, no, no..." Su Chan grabbed Li Yundong's arm and shook her head desperately. "Take me with you! You can't abandon me! You promised." Su Chan held up her pinky. "We made a pinky promise, remember?"

    Warmth flooded Li Yundong's heart. He reached out and hooked his own pinky around Su Chan's and then pressed their thumbs together. "You silly girl..."

    "I'm going with you, I don't care!"

    Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. But if things go south, I want you to leave me and run, okay?"

    Su Chan looked like she wanted to argue, but he pressed his finger to her lips.

    "There's no point in both of us dying," Li Yundong said, then leaned down to whisper into her ear. "You can fly, so you've got a better chance of escaping. If she tries to attack, I'll engage while you fly, okay? Go back to your master. I'm sure she can keep you safe."

    Su Chan stared at him as though he had grown a thousand heads, her eyes swimming with unshed tears.

    Li Yundong gave her a sad smile, then headed towards the entrance.

    ***

    When Li Yundong and Su Chan exited the banquet hall, they found Zi Yuan waiting for them beside the door. Zi Yuan led them past the elevators, much to Li Yundong's relief. At least they wouldn't be having this talk in some hotel room where Zi Yuan had every opportunity to kill them both. Soon, they arrived at the hotel's lobby. Zi Yuan walked past the reception and headed straight for the hotel's revolving doors.

    "You can both relax, you know," Zi Yuan said once they exited the hotel. "I told you I'm not looking to harm either of you."

    "Could've fooled me," Su Chan mumbled behind him.

    Li Yundong said nothing but kept walking, all the while keeping an eye out for possible escape routes. They circled the building and ended up on a street behind Shengyuan Hotel. Li Yundong scanned their surroundings and noticed a few passers-by and night strollers ambling around. The street didn't look secluded.

    Li Yundong halted his steps. "Alright, that's enough. We won't be going any further," Li Yundong said in a firm tone.

    Zi Yuan stopped walking and turned around with a raised brow.

    "You wanted to talk," Li Yundong said. "So talk."

    Zi Yuan smiled and took a step closer.

    "As I understand, you had a run in a while back with my protégé, Ruan Hongling," Zi Yuan said in a gentle voice. "And you took a piece of damask from her, correct?"

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan without answering.

    "That damask is a highly valuable artifact of the Zhengyi School. I'm asking you to return it to us."

    Li Yundong's eyes narrowed. "Give it back to you? How stupid do you think I am?"

    Zi Yuan's brows rose slightly. "Pardon me?"

    "If I return the damask to you, she'll just use it to attack us again."

    Zi Yuan held up her palm. "I personally assure—"

    "Your assurance means nothing if you couldn't even keep her in check in the first place," Li Yundong said coldly.

    Zi Yuan's eyes widened slightly.

    Li Yundong snorted. "Yeah. From your reaction, I'm guessing that Ruan Hongling had attacked us without your consent." Li Yundong glared at Zi Yuan. "She nearly killed Su Chan during the attack!"

    Zi Yuan shook her head. "Well, for what it's worth, you nearly killed her too." Zi Yuan's tone was so casual that it was as if she had just stated an obvious truth.

    "That's ridiculous!" Li Yundong scoffed. "I didn't even come close to killing her!" In fact, the whole fight was so one-sided that he was almost ashamed to admit it.

    Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "You nearly shattered her soul."

    Li Yundong frowned in confusion. Shattered her soul? What the hell was she talking about?

    "And then you even took away her precious damask—"

    "Which your apprentice used to attack us!" Li Yundong fired back.

    Zi Yuan stared at Li Yundong calmly. Li Yundong tried to get a read on the woman's body language, but other than poise and composure he couldn't detect anything. And those eyes… They were completely unreadable.

    In terms of aloofness, this woman could actually give Zhou Qin a run for her money.    

    "How about this," Zi Yuan said moments later. "Why don't you return the damask to us and we'll call it even. How about it? I promise you that I'll keep her in check. She won't bother you again."

    Li Yundong curled his lips. How stupid did she think he was?

    "I don't buy it." Li Yundong balled his fists. "When Ruan Hongling attacked us that night, she didn't exactly hide the fact that she hated Su Chan's guts and wanted nothing more than to wipe Su Chan out of existence. Then, she started spouting all this self-righteous crap about how I deserved to die just because I'm with Su Chan." Li Yundong leveled a cold gaze at Zi Yuan. "No offense, but all that sounded like a bunch of indoctrinated crap to me."

    Zi Yuan's brows rose to her hairline. "Excuse me? Are you saying that—"

    "That your school has brainwashed people to adopt hateful beliefs? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying." Li Yundong's eyes flashed in anger. "So no. I don't believe a single thing you said since you're from the same school."

    More silence spread between them. Zi Yuan looked surprisingly calm. Su Chan, on the other hand, looked awfully subdued.

    "Look, I won't try to justify Hongling's behavior," Zi Yuan said. "I agree that her actions were inappropriate." Then, Zi Yuan's gaze landed on Su Chan. "But still, I get where Hongling is coming from."

    Li Yundong shook his head in disgust.

    "F*cking bigots…" he muttered under his breath.

    Zi Yuan kept talking as though she hadn't heard him.

    "Humans and demons can't even co-exist, let alone become lovers. Humans and fox spirits don't belong together. It isn't right. So, as a Cultivator, Hongling was just—"

    "Shut the hell up!" Li Yundong roared. "Who are you to decide whether or not two people belong with each other? What gives you people the right to decide that!" Li Yundong wrapped his arm around Su Chan's shoulders. "I care about this girl. And she cares about me. That's all that matters! Our relationship doesn't concern you, so back off!"

    Zi Yuan frowned slightly at his outburst, though Li Yundong was too riled up to stop now. "And you better who you're calling demons, lady," Li Yundong growled. "Su Chan never hurt a soul! She's a kind, caring, and compassionate girl! Do you know how many human lives she has saved over the past few weeks? Do you!" Li Yundong snorted. "Demons my ass. If anything, you people are the demons!" Li Yundong slashed his hands in the air. "You barged into our home and attacked us. And guess what else that silly protégé of yours did? She went and hired someone as dangerous as Lin Youfa to pick on me. Do you know how many lives were put at risk the moment Lin Youfa got involved?" Li Yundong laughed humorlessly. "No. I suppose not. You people have no regard for human life at all! So you f*cking tell me who are the real demons here!"

    Silence filled the street, which was now completely deserted.

    After a while, Zi Yuan sighed. "Fine. I apologize for Hongling's behavior. Just return the damask and we'll call a truce."

    Li Yundong regarded Zi Yuan carefully. After a moment, he shook his head and opened his mouth to speak.

    "Argh, damn it! I told you, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! I told you it's pointless to negotiate with him!" A loud voice echoed in the street.

    Zi Yuan closed her eyes and sighed.

    Li Yundong's mouth snapped shut and he turned his head to the side. Sure enough, Ruan Hongling was storming towards them from the other end of the street like a tigress approaching its prey.

    "Enough chatter and kick their asses already!" Ruan Hongling pointed at Li Yundong. "And why are you even apologizing to this guy! The Zhengyi School's Linggong Sect will not suffer such a humiliation—"

    "Silence!" Zi Yuan's voice rang out with authority. "I told you to stay out of this! How dare you disobey me!"

    Ruan Hongling stomped her foot. "But Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    "I told you to be quiet!"

    Defiance flashed across Ruan Hongling's face. "But you're going to ruin the Linggong Sect's reputation!"

    "How dare you use that tone with me!"

    Ruan Hongling's face paled instantly.

    "I was…" Ruan Hongling hesitated for a moment, then raised her chin defiantly. "I was merely stating the truth!"

    "You're the one who acted rashly in the first place," Zi Yuan said icily. "You wouldn't have lost the damask if you hadn't gone behind my back and attacked them!"

    Ruan Hongling gaped at Zi Yuan as though she couldn't believe what she'd just heard.

    Li Yundong tensed up when Zi Yuan suddenly pointed her finger at him.

    "Apologize," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Ruan Hongling.

    "W- What?"

    "You heard me. Apologize to the man," Zi Yuan repeated with a firmer tone, then turned to look at Li Yundong. "Will you return the damask to us if she apologizes and admits her mistake?"

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan warily.

    Seconds later, Li Yundong said, "And you have to give me your word that you and your people will never bother us again."

    "Done," Zi Yuan answered in a heartbeat.

    "Fine," Li Yundong said, then looked towards Ruan Hongling.

    "I don't believe this..." Ruan Hongling whispered, shaking her head gently. "I don't believe this... You've really lost your mind, Elder Sister Zi Yuan..."

    "Hongling!" Zi Yuan said in a sharp tone. "Do you want your damask back or not?"

    Ruan Hongling stared at Zi Yuan for a few seconds. Then, she shot Li Yundong a glare. "You know what? He can keep the damn thing. I'd rather die than apologize to this vile—"

    A loud screech pierced through the night. Seconds later, an Audi A6 pulled up by the curb.

    The car's window lowered to reveal Zhou Qin's beautiful face.

    "Li Yundong? Su Chan? What are you guys doing here?"

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  • Chapter 151 Atrocity

    Li Yundong glanced at Ruan Hongling, then looked towards the Audi again. "Hey, Zhou Qin," he said, giving Zhou Qin a hesitant wave. "I'm here for the assignment President Cao gave me this afternoon." Li Yundong forced out a smile. "I'm President Cao's bodyguard tonight."

    A look of recognition formed on Zhou Qin's face. Seconds later, she killed the Audi's engine. Li Yundong cursed inwardly. He'd been hoping that Zhou Qin would go on her way after he'd given his explanation.

    The Audi's door opened and Zhou Qin stepped out.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat and forced out another smile.

    "What about you? What are you doing here—" Li Yundong snapped his fingers. "Oh, wait. Where's Ding Nan? I thought I saw her with you just now."

    Something flickered inside Zhou Qin's eyes, but it was gone all too soon. "Mmm, I met up with her to talk about a few things." Zhou Qin flashed a quick smile. "Anyway. Enough about me. Are these two your friends?"

    "Friends?" Li Yundong laughed humorlessly. "If I'm looking to cut a few years off my life, then yeah."

    "You insolent little—" Ruan Hongling stomped her foot, then turned towards Zi Yuan. "Is the prophecy really that important to you, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! How could you side with him? How could you! You're my mentor, Elder Sister Zi Yuan! And yet you picked the Jindan's Heir over me!"

    Li Yundong shared a look with Su Chan. The Jindan's Heir? The prophecy? he mouthed the words to Su Chan. To his surprise, Su Chan looked as confused as he felt when she shook her head slightly.

    It wasn't the first time Li Yundong had heard of this heir and this mysterious prophecy; Ruan Hongling had mentioned it the night she attacked them at their apartment.

    "Li Yundong... I don't understand... What are they talking about?" Zhou Qin asked. "What heir?"

    Li Yundong snapped out of his stupor and quickly pulled Zhou Qin aside.

    "Listen to me, okay? You need to get out of here," he whispered. "Don't get involve—"

    Zhou Qin raised her hand. "Cut the nonsense, Li Yundong." Zhou Qin shot Zi Yuan a glance. "Who are they, and what do they want?" Zhou Qin gave Li Yundong a pointed look. "Are you in trouble? Do you need my help—"

    "Off you go, girl! Shoo!" Ruan Hongling shouted. "None of this concerns you, so piss off!"

    Anger rose inside Li Yundong, and he whirled around. "Watch your foul mouth!" He pointed a finger at Ruan Hongling. "That's my friend you just insulted!"

    Ruan Hongling opened her mouth to argue but was stopped by Zi Yuan's dangerous voice.

    "Hongling... That's enough!"

    Li Yundong shook his head and turned back to Zhou Qin.

    "Look," he said with a sigh. "This is a very complicated matter. To be honest, I'm not even sure how to explain it—"

    A loud scream sent frissons of dread through Li Yundong.

    He turned around instinctively to make sure that Su Chan was okay.

    Su Chan was look at him too, her eyes wide and confused.

    Then, there was a loud thud.

    No. Not a thud. It sounded more like a... a splat.

    From the corner of his eyes, Li Yundong saw Zi Yuan gazing at the upper floors of Shengyuan Hotel's building.

    A horrifying thought crossed his mind.

    Oh, God... No… Not again...

    "Yundong!! Into the building! Hurry!"

    Su Chan's voice made Li Yundong look up.

    Su Chan was already half-jogging towards the hotel's gates. Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling were nowhere to be seen, like they'd just vanished into thin air. Where the hell did those two go?

    Su Chan came to a halt when she reached the gates. She turned around to face him, then waved at him desperately.

    "Come on, Yundong!"

    Li Yundong didn't have to be told twice. He sprinted towards the building. Su Chan ran past the gates the moment she saw him move.  

    Li Yundong caught up to Su Chan moments later.

    "Someone fell off the building, didn't they?"

    Su Chan was too busy scanning their surroundings to answer.

    Suddenly, Su Chan came to a halt and pointed at something in front of them. Li Yundong stopped beside Su Chan and followed Su Chan's finger with his gaze. Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling were already there, staring at something at their feet.

    Li Yundong knees went weak. A sudden weightlessness coursed through him, like someone had suddenly yanked the ground out from under his feet. Footsteps sounded nearby. A second later, Zhou Qin stopped beside him.

    "Gosh. Li Yundong, why did you take off like that?" Zhou Qin said, sounding completely out of breath. "What's going…? Oh my God..."

    Li Yundong didn't answer, not when his own mind was reeling. He moved from Zhou Qin's side and trudged forward on wobbly legs. Su Chan had already run ahead to join Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling and was now crouching down beside Ruan Hongling.

    Amidst the ghastly blood splatter, lay the body of a young woman dressed in a beige dress—the standard uniform for Shengyuan Hotel's waiting staff. Then, when Ruan Hongling removed the dead woman's cap, Li Yundong's blood ran cold. He stopped walking. Waves of horror crashed into him as he stared at that familiar red headband.

    The next thing he knew, he was sprinting towards the body.

    "No... No... No... This can't be right..."

    This has to be some kind of sick joke… It has to be.

    Li Yundong pushed Ruan Hongling aside and crouched down.

    "No!!!" Li Yundong yelled. "Deng Yu!!!"

    Something inside Li Yundong's heart clenched the moment he saw the bloody face on the ground. Just a while ago, this young and carefree girl was alive and well, speaking to him. And now she lay dead in a pool of her own blood.

    "Su Chan..." Li Yundong could barely recognize his own voice. "C- Can she be revived?"

    Maybe there was a way. Su Chan's badass massage techniques could revive someone even after their heart had stopped beating. What was it again that Su Chan told him last time? Qi. Right. As long as there was still Qi...

    A warm hand slid into Li Yundong's palm. Li Yundong looked to his left and saw Su Chan staring up at him, her eyes glistening with tears.

    "She's gone, Yundong... I'm sorry..."

    "We got here too late."

    Li Yundong looked to his right and saw Zi Yuan looking at him too.

    "She no longer has any Qi when we got here," Zi Yuan said.

    Li Yundong shook his head stared down at Deng Yu's body. Deng Yu's lifeless eyes stared back at him. God, he felt sick. This whole thing was sick.

    "What the hell happened...?" Li Yundong fisted his hair. "What the f*ck happened?"

    Was it suicide? Had Deng Yu jumped off the building? But why? She seemed so happy and excited when they spoke earlier! Why would she suddenly decide to kill herself—

    "Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Ruan Hongling's grave tone pulled Li Yundong out of his thoughts. Something was wrong with Ruan Hongling's tone. Something was terribly wrong.

    "Have you checked?" Zi Yuan asked.

    Ruan Hongling nodded grimly. Li Yundong watched Ruan Hongling's face carefully and waited for the girl to continue. What did she check? What else did these two know?

    "She had intercourse before the fall. And... And I don't think it was consensual."

    "W- What? She was raped?" Li Yundong growled. "Who did this—"

    "Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!"

    Another shriek made everyone froze. Li Yundong's gaze snapped upwards as he scanned the side of the building.

    A second body was tumbling off a balcony.

    "Shit!" Li Yundong broke off into a sprint, his Qi reaching his Shenting in record time.

    Xianjue!!

    White light filled Li Yundong's eyes.

    "No! Dammit! No!!!" Li Yundong screamed even though he knew it wouldn't change a f*cking thing; he couldn't do anything from the ground.

    Another burst of white light brought Li Yundong out of clairvoyant mode.

    She's gonna hit a lower balcony... F*ck!

    Li Yundong ran to a spot at the bottom of the building where he knew Deng Jiao's body would fall. When he looked up, he watched in horror as everything he'd seen with Xianjue unfolded right in front of him: Deng Jiao's head smashing into a railing on a lower floor balcony before continuing its downward path.

    Please don't die, please don't die... Don't die, dammit!

    Deng Jiao's body felt straight into Li Yundong's waiting arms. Blood soaked the front of Li Yundong's suit jacket as he lowered the Deng Jiao to the ground.

    "Su Chan!!" Li Yundong yelled at the top of his lungs. "Su Chan!!!"

    "I'm here, beloved... I'm here..." Su Chan crouched down beside him and began pulling out a bunch of needles.

    Li Yundong stepped aside to give Su Chan space to work. He stared down at his blood-soaked arms as whispered words rang in his ears. Someone touched his shoulder. He turned and noticed Zhou Qin's concerned expression. Then, he heard Ruan Hongling's rapid words: raped; head smashed in; very little hope.

    Li Yundong felt his own legs moving. He was walking… somewhere.

    "S- Su Chan...?"

    Li Yundong crouched down beside his princess. God knew he needed it since his legs felt like jelly right then.

    "Yundong..." Su Chan stared back at him, then wiped the back of her bloodied hand against her forehead.

    "It's pointless, Su Chan," Zi Yuan said. "Not even I can save her at this point."

    Li Yundong took in Deng Jiao's lifeless form on the ground.

    Ruan Hongling was right; Deng Jiao's head was completely smashed in. Even with Xianjue, there wasn't anything Li Yundong could do to save her.

    Someone tugged Li Yundong's hand. "Yundong... Yundong... Come on, breathe... Please... Beloved!"

    Li Yundong didn't move. Images of Deng Jiao's ruined face filled his mind as everything else faded away.

    More images came to him: memories of Deng Yu entertaining a bunch of kids in a MacDonald's mascot; the cheerful and carefree manner in which she spoke to everyone; the way her face lit up when he gave her that autograph; the way she teased her sister.

    The twins were dead. Two innocent girls. Dead. Someone had raped them, and then probably murdered them by pushing them off the building.

    The tugs on his hand grew more and more insistent.

    "Yundong... Come on, beloved! Snap out of it!"

    Again, Li Yundong didn't move. He refused to believe this. He refused to believe that the world could be that cruel.  

    Why? Why did the innocent have to die while the scumbags continued to reign over the world like gods? Was there no justice in this world? Were the Heavens blind?

    No. Such atrocity should not be tolerated.

    A ball of heat formed in Li Yundong's lower belly as he slowly rose to his feet. The heat surged, expanding outwards until it reached the surface of his skin.

    "Who..." Li Yundong growled. "Who did this! Tell me who did this!"

    "No! Yundong!"

    Zi Yuan's voice rang out. "Get back here, Su Chan! It's too dangerous!"

    "No!!! Yundong!!! Yundong!!!" Su Chan yelled. "Argh!! No!"

    A struggle broke out.

    "Let me go!!!" Su Chan screamed. "Help him! You gotta help him!!!"

    Li Yundong craned his neck upwards and began to count the floor numbers. Eleven... Twelve... Thirteen... He paused at the fifteenth floor and activated his telescopic vision. Zooming in, he studied the balcony where he knew Deng Jiao had fallen off from.

    A man was leaning against the railing.

    The man was looking straight down, holding on to his bleeding forearm. When Li Yundong zoomed in further on the man's injured forearm, he noticed a deep bite mark. A blue headband lay beside the man's feet.

    The heat inside Li Yundong's body flared, turning into a blazing inferno.

    I'm going to kill you, you evil son of a bitch… I'm going to f*cking end you…

    "Hongling! Hongling!"

    "I'm on it, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!!"

    A strange noise—like the rustling of paper—sounded behind him, but he didn't care. That son of a bitch had eluded justice for far too long. It was time to put an end to that lowlife.

    "No!!! Get back here, Su Chan!"

    "No!! Yundong!!! No!!!"

    "Restraint her, Hongling!!"

    "On it!!"

    "Damn it!!! The other one as well! Restraint them both!"

    The rustling grew louder and louder, but soon, he could no longer hear anything except for the strange roaring inside ears. Something was gushing out from the top of his head. Then, the roaring stopped.

    A split second later, Li Yundong's world exploded in a bright flash of gold. And when he yelled, he couldn't even recognize his own voice.

    "He Shao!!!! You're dead!!! You're f*cking dead!!!! I'm going to destroy you, you piece of shit!"

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  • Chapter 152 Pursuit (Part 1)

    Su Chan twisted her body and slipped out of Ruan Hongling's grip. Behind her, Ruan Hongling cursed, but Su Chan didn't care. Reaching up with one hand, Su Chan pulled out a strand of her hair and sprinted towards her beloved. She had to get to Yundong before it was too late. Yundong hadn't passed the Zhuji phase yet. He didn't have a Vital Orb to help keep all his Qi inside his body. If the Jindan's Aura went berserk, all his Qi might leave his body and he would—

    Su Chan's world spun around when a powerful force—like a shockwave from an explosion—smacked into her body, pushing all the air out of her lungs. A flash of golden light blinded her eyes, and her arms rose instinctively to shield her face.

    A second later, Su Chan's right side rammed into something hard and abrasive. Groaning, she lowered her arms from her face.

    Yundong…

    Not far from where she lay on the ground, Yundong stood like a glowing beacon. A golden radiance bathed his body from head to toe.

    "He Shao!!!! You're dead!!! You're f*cking dead!!!!" Yundong screamed in a voice that sounded completely foreign to her ears. No. Please, no... This isn't my Yundong... "I'm going to destroy you, you piece of shit!"

    Su Chan yelped when another golden flash dazzled her eyes. The force of the blast caused Su Chan's body to roll further away from where Yundong was standing.

    Su Chan gasped. She reached up with both hands and clawed at her chest as her throat constricted. She couldn't breathe. Oh, God... I'm suffocating... I'm—

    A dark shadow appeared in front of her. Suddenly, she could breathe again. Su Chan took a huge gulp of air and blinked away her haze.

    Zi Yuan...

    But why?

    Why did she save me?

    Su Chan slowly got to her feet and started limping towards Zi Yuan, who was standing elegantly about ten feet in front of her. Dozens of small talismans circled Zi Yuan's right arm, which was raised in front of her. Green light shone from her palm to form some kind of curved rectangular screen. Su Chan knew what that was.

    A Qi repelling spell...

    Su Chan stumbled towards Zi Yuan and grabbed the woman's left arm.

    "Please! You have to help him... Please! He hasn't—"

    "I'm aware that he hasn't passed the Zhuji phase yet," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Yundong.

    Yundong's body was still engulfed in a golden blaze.

    "Then you must help him! At this rate—"

    "Calm down, Su Chan."

    "No! I know what's happening! His Qi will—"

    "I must say that I'm impressed with the depth of your understanding, Su Chan. Seems like your master has taught you well."

    Su Chan took a step forward but stumbled when Zi Yuan pulled her back.

    "Relax... His Qi reserve is vast. It won't deplete that quickly. He's fine for now." Zi Yuan gave her a sidelong glance. "Now you on the other hand won't be so lucky, especially if you charge in blindly like what you were about to do just now. You haven't forgotten the basic Yin-Yang Principle now, have you?"

    No. Su Chan hadn't forgotten. She knew the risks. She just didn't care.

    "You must remain behind this shield," Zi Yuan continued. "The area surrounding him is filled with the purest form of Yang Qi. If you get too close..."

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Her Yin Qi might be sucked out of her body as dictated by the Yin-Yang principle. Yada, yada, yada. Who cares? She was willing to risk everything as long as she could help Yundong. Besides, she already passed the Zhuji phase, so maybe—just maybe—she might be able to make it out in one piece...

    Wait, why am I floating?

    Su Chan flailed her arms and kicked her legs in the air. "Put me down!" she snarled, glaring at Zi Yuan.

    "You really need to calm down and let me handle this," Zi Yuan said in a flat tone.

    Su Chan pouted and kept struggling to no avail. This was no doubt some kind of levitation spell. Grr!

    A moment later, Su Chan realized that she was floating—back towards Ruan Hongling, who was standing in front of Zhou Qin. Ruan Hongling's right arm was also circled with tiny talismans. The same green shield emanated from the surface of her right palm.

    Su Chan landed right beside Zhou Qin. When their gazes met, Su Chan could detect the shock and fear in Zhou Qin's eyes.

    "So this is the true power of the Jindan's Heir..." Ruan Hongling said.

    "Not even close," Zi Yuan replied casually.

    "My God, Elder Sister... What on earth am I seeing?"

    "Do you see now why I wanted us to stay back and observe before we act?" Zi Yuan said in a reprimanding tone. "You were foolish to take Master's prophecy lightly."

    Su Chan frowned. "What prophecy?"

    Zi Yuan turned around sharply and regarded Su Chan for a moment.

    "Ten years ago, my master wrote down a prophecy. And according to the prophecy, a great Cultivator shall rise and become the true heir of the Renyuan Jindan. That's all you need to know."

    Su Chan opened her mouth to speak.

    "Enough. Now give me that thing," Zi Yuan said, holding out her right hand.

    "What?"

    "The needle you're hiding in your palm," Zi Yuan said patiently. "Give it to me now. I need it to help him." Zi Yuan jerked her head towards Yundong.

    Su Chan handed Zi Yuan the long needle reluctantly.

    "T- The L- Lingtai... and—"

    Zi Yuan's eyes shone with amusement. "Who do you think I am, Su Chan?" Zi Yuan took the needle from Su Chan. "I know what to do."

    Right. Of course. She was speaking with the most powerful Cultivator in the younger generation after all. Stupid, stupid, Chan'er...

    "Hongling!"

    "Yes, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    "Watch them both." Zi Yuan pulled out more talismans from her pocket. "The shield stays up, got it?"

    "Yes!"

    Zi Yuan turned towards Yundong. "Now let me show you how it's done."

    ***

    A sharp prick between his shoulder blades made Li Yundong turn around. Worry and disappointment coursed through him when he noticed that the person standing in front of him wasn't Su Chan but Zi Yuan instead. Li Yundong looked past Zi Yuan's shoulder and found relief a moment later.

    There she is, my princess...

    Su Chan was kneeling on the ground right beside Zhou Qin. Ruan Hongling was standing in front of the both of them as though she was… protecting them? Wait, what?

    Li Yundong took stock of their surroundings and immediately noticed the tiny pieces of paper strewn all over the ground. What the hell?

    "You really need to learn how to master the Jindan's Aura unless you have a death wish, Li Yundong."

    Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan sharply, then down at his own hands. His entire body was glowing.

    All of a sudden, he remembered. Everything came back. The twins' deaths. All that blood. The heat. The anger. The injustice.

    With a low growl, Li Yundong looked past Zi Yuan's shoulder towards Zhou Qin.

    "It was He Shao..." Li Yundong said. "That son of a bitch did this..." He gestured at Deng Jiao's body with his hand. "He killed them both!"

    "What?" Zhou Qin was up on her feet in an instant. "Are you sure?"

    "I saw him!" Li Yundong yelled, pointing towards the building. "He was right there, on the same balcony where Deng Jiao fell."

    Zhou Qin suddenly went pale. "You saw him..."

    "Yeah... With my own eyes..." Li Yundong growled, looking up again.

    He Shao was no longer on the balcony.

    "Which floor?"

    Li Yundong tore his gaze away from the building and looked towards Zhou Qin.

    "Which floor was he on when you saw him?"

    "Fifteenth," Li Yundong growled.

    "Fifteenth..." Zhou Qin whispered, then closed her eyes. "Oh, God..."

    "Wait a minute… Are you saying…?" Understanding dawned on Li Yundong. He took a step closer, his eyes narrowing. "You know which floor he's staying on, don't you? It's the fifteenth floor, isn't it?"

    Zhou Qin didn't answer. Hell, she didn't need to. Li Yundong had seen enough. He'd counted the f*cking floors, for God's sake.

    "Give me his room number! I'm gonna make that son of a bitch pay!" Li Yundong turned around and stormed off. He strode quickly towards the corner of the building where he knew would lead him to the hotel's main entrance.

    "Li Yundong! Wait!" Zhou Qin yelled.

    Li Yundong felt a hand his shoulder, then heard a loud gasp. He stopped walking and turned around again. Zhou Qin was kneeling on the floor, holding her right hand with her left. There was a pained expression on her face. Su Chan appeared beside Zhou Qin. "Let me—"

    "It's okay. I'm fine." Zhou Qin said, cutting her off. Then, Zhou Qin stood up with Su Chan's help and walked towards Li Yundong.

    "Stop this, Li Yundong! You need to let the police handle this. Otherwise you'll just get into trouble."

    Li Yundong bristled. "The police!" A golden flash lit up Zhou Qin's face. "That son of a bitch would've been tossed into jail ages ago if the cops did their jobs in the first place!" Li Yundong paused, shaking his head. "No, Zhou Qin. The cops are useless. There's too much politics involved. Say the cops arrest him now and he goes to jail. And then what? Weeks later, he'll be out parading the streets like a king!"

    "You don't know that," Zhou Qin stated firmly.

    "You think I'm stupid? You think I don't know how things work when it comes to people like him?" Li Yundong sneered. "Bribes? Dirty cops? Dirty judges? A team of fancy lawyers? Toss a bit of money around and he can have everyone running around doing his bidding!"

    "Not this time," Zhou Qin said steadily. "This time I'll personally make sure that he gets the punishment he deserves."

    "The punishment he deserves?" Li Yundong chuckled humorlessly. "Can you put him on death row? Can you? Hmm?"

    When Zhou Qin didn't answer, Li Yundong snorted. "Yeah. That's what I thought." He turned around and kept walking.

    "And what are you planning to do! Beat him to death?" Zhou Qin yelled.

    He stopped. Footsteps sounded behind him. Zhou Qin had caught up to him.

    "What about Su Chan? Who's going to be there for Su Chan if you end up in jail for murder?"

    Li Yundong's gaze found Su Chan, who was staring back at him with piteous eyes. Damn it! He sighed and unclenched his fists. The glow of his body began to wane.

    "That's it, Li Yundong. That's it... Take it easy. He won't get away with this. I'll make sure of it."

    A loud screech of tires sounded. Seconds later, a black BMW shot out from Shengyuan Hotel's underground parking lot.

    "Darn it!" Zhou Qin cursed and started tapping on her phone's screen.

    The black BMW hurtled past them towards the front gates.

    Just like that, the flame of ire rose inside Li Yundong once again.

    "Oh, hell no…" Li Yundong growled.

    That son of a bitch was making a run for it.

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  • Chapter 152 Pursuit (Part 2)     

    Zi Yuan followed Li Yundong's movement with her eyes as he stormed towards the corner of building. Su Chan and the girl who came in the Audi took off after him. Zi Yuan stared after Li Yundong. Is this him, Master? Is this the man in your prophecy? The man you deemed as the true heir of the Renyuan Jindan?

    "Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    Zi Yuan tore her gaze away from Li Yundong just as Hongling appeared beside her.

    "Have you checked both souls?"

    "Yes, Elder Sister. The souls are still inside the bodies."

    "Are they still intact?"

    Hongling nodded.

    "Good," Zi Yuan said.

    There was still a way to help those poor girls. Granted, neither of them would ever be the same person again, but it was still better than letting two pure souls be taken away in such a horrific manner.

    "Elder Sister?" Hongling's voice pulled Zi Yuan out of her thoughts. "What now?"

    Zi Yuan looked towards the dead bodies, then back at Hongling again.

    "Gather their souls," Zi Yuan said. "Keep them safe until we return to the mountains."

    A look of surprise flitted across Hongling's face. "Are you saying…"

    "Yes," Zi Yuan said. "I can reconstruct their bodies, but only if their souls remain intact." Zi Yuan gave Hongling a pointed look. "And I'm giving you the task of collecting their souls. Are you up for it?"

    A look of determination formed on Hongling's face. "Yes."

    Up ahead, the air exploded in a burst of golden light. Someone grasped Zi Yuan's arm. When she turned her head, Zi Yuan saw Hongling staring back at her. For the first time, Zi Yuan saw a hint of fear in her protégé's eyes.

    Zi Yuan patted Hongling's hand. "Go. Time isn't on our side."

    Hongling dropped her hand and looked towards Li Yundong. "But is he…"

    Zi Yuan shook her head. "I sealed his Qi earlier. Now his Qi can no longer move past his Huagai. The Jindan's Aura is no longer a threat to him and to us."

    Unless he broke the seal, of course.

    "Oh…"

    Li Yundong stormed off after another heated exchange with the dark-haired girl.

    Zi Yuan turned to Hongling. "Get to work. You have to collect the souls before they leave the bodies."

    "R- Right!"

    There was a loud screech of tires. A black car appeared from the parking lot and hurtled past them.

    Zi Yuan shook her head in disgust. "That's him, the culprit. He's trying to get away."

    "I hate to say this, Elder Sister," Hongling growled. "But I have to agree with Li Yundong this time. This man deserves the worst kind of death!"

    Zi Yuan glared at her protégé. "Hongling… You know the rules."

    Hongling looked like she'd just been forced to swallow a hundred flies.

    A moment later, Hongling schooled her features. "Of course I know the rules, Elder Sister." Hongling pointed her finger at something behind Zi Yuan. "But I bet he doesn't."

    Zi Yuan turned around abruptly and saw Li Yundong running after the BMW.

    "Gather the souls and meet me at the gates," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the BMW.

    Like it or not, Zi Yuan couldn't shake the feeling that the entire world of Cultivation was about to change after tonight.

    ***

    "You're not gonna get away… You're not f*cking getting away," Li Yundong growled. "Not this time!"

    He took a sharp right and caught a glimpse of the BMW. The car had just driven past the curb in front of the revolving doors and was now heading straight for the gates.

    Son of a bitch!

    Li Yundong pushed his Qi to his legs and broke off into a sprint.

    Outside the gates, Li Yundong stopped.

    Where's the bastard? Where the f*ck is he…

    He spotted the BMW at the intersection closest to Shengyuan Hotel's gates. The red light was on.

    Got you now...

    Li Yundong sprinted along the sidewalk until he reached the intersection. Then, when Li Yundong was crossing the road towards the opposite lane, He Shao's BMW started honking like crazy.

    No doubt the bastard had noticed Li Yundong's approach. Not that it mattered. The bastard wasn't getting away from him this time. I'm going to make him pay for everything he's done… Every f*cking thing…

    Li Yundong leaped over the guard rail dividing the two-way street, then charged towards the BMW. Someone cursed loudly, after which the honking grew more insistent.

    The lights turned green.

    Damn it!

    Li Yundong pounced forward.

    Got it!

    Li Yundong's palms dug into the BMW's trunk lid just as the car began to move. The lid slid against Li Yundong's palms. No! Li Yundong slammed his palms onto the lid. The metal surface under his palms caved inwards, resulting in two sharp dents about a meter apart.

    The BMW's engine rumbled loudly, and Li Yundong reacted by shoving his hands into the two dents. He lowered his center of gravity and then held on to the car with all his strength. The BMW's tires screeched, but the car wasn't moving.

    Billows of dust rose from the pavement to Li Yundong's face. He ignored the dust and looked straight ahead. Through the BMW's back window, he caught a glimpse of the rear-view mirror, where He Shao's frightened eyes were staring back at him.

    The engine's rumbling grew louder. Li Yundong grunted when the sole of his shoes began to slide against the rough asphalt beneath him. Oh, no you don't! Clenching his jaw, Li Yundong tightened his grip on the trunk lid, then dropped his hips into an even lower stance. Then, he leaned his torso backwards and pulled.

    More dust rose from under him as the smell of burnt rubber grew stronger. Through the dust cloud, Li Yundong caught a glimpse of his glowing arms.

    The metal groaned under his fingers. Li Yundong grunted and held on tighter. He had to reach under the car somehow. That way he could flip the car over and that son of a bitch would be left with no means of esca—

    SNAP!

    Li Yundong stumbled backwards when the trunk lid broke off its hinges. Shoving his rear foot back, Li Yundong managed to regain his footing and prevent himself from falling. However, he'd lost his grip on the BMW, which had begun to speed away from him.

    Anger rose inside Li Yundong. He shifted the lid to this right hand and then cocked his right arm back.

    "Take this!!!"

    He hurled the piece of metal towards the BMW.

    CRASH!

    The lid shattered the BMW's back window. The BMW slowed and then swerved into the adjacent lane. However, the BMW righted its path a split second later and sped off.

    Wasting no time, Li Yundong propelled himself into the air and, in one huge bound, cleared the entire square that formed the intersection. He landed in the middle of the road with a loud thud. Cars swerved around to avoid him.

    Ignoring the honks and curses around him, Li Yundong broke off into a sprint.

    "Come back here, He Shao!!!"

    ***

    Li Yundong sprinted after the BMW as though his life depended on it, which, in a way, was kind of true—he wasn't sure if he could live with himself if he let He Shao walk away tonight.

    Just how many women had He Shao violated? How many of his atrocious deeds had gone unpunished? How many people had he murdered in cold blood?

    No more. No f*cking more.

    Trees and hedges zipped past Li Yundong as he ran. Li Yundong knew this route like the back of his hand, since he'd used it pretty much every day. This road would lead to Tiannan University, which was located near the city's outskirts.

    The bastard was trying to leave the city.

    Li Yundong quickened his pace at the thought.

    Eventually, Tiannan University's gates came into view. The BMW sped past the gates, causing several students to scream in surprise. When Li Yundong ran past the gates ten seconds later, he thought he heard cheers of "Hero of Tiannan University" behind him.

    Li Yundong wanted to scoff at that nickname. He was no hero. He'd just witnessed the death of two girls, and there wasn't a single f*cking thing he could do to save them. Li Yundong glanced ahead and saw the BMW's glaring taillights. He cursed inwardly.

    At this rate, he'd never be able to catch the bastard.

    I need a plan…

    Li Yundong drew a mental picture of the surrounding area while he ran.

    We've already passed the campus, which means…

    The market. They were heading towards the market.

    "Damn it!"

    The BMW had just taken a sharp left turn, so Li Yundong had temporarily lost sight of it. Wait a minute… The tires.

    He could try blowing out the tires…

    But how? He didn't have a gun, or any sharp object that he could use to throw—

    Li Yundong wanted to smack himself. Why blow out the tires when he could just flip the whole car with a shockwave?

    Yes, that's it…

    The plan was perfect, since He Shao was now driving towards the suburbs where there would be little to no traffic during this hour. Which meant Li Yundong could unleash a shockwave without fear of causing collateral damage.

    Li Yundong sprinted along the empty street towards the corner where the BMW had just taken the turn. Anticipation coursed through Li Yundong's veins. The plan was pretty straightforward. He just had to get close enough to the car, then maintain that distance until they reached the suburban area before he—

    A series of honks sounded just as Li Yundong took a left turn around the corner. For the nth time tonight, Li Yundong heard the annoying screech of the BMW's tires. However, this time the sound occurred in tandem with two screams—male and female. Li Yundong's blood ran cold.

    The bastard had probably run over someone.

    Li Yundong raised his head sharply and stared ahead.

    Hundreds of meters away, the BMW was slowing to a stop. Li Yundong activated his telescopic vision and hurried his pace. The glimmer from the BMW's taillights enabled him to make out a towering figure of a man beside the BMW. The man was screaming and pounding his fist against the BMW's window.

    Li Yundong zoomed in further.

    Hey, isn't that…

    Er Lu. It was Er Lu!

    "Hey!!!" Li Yundong shouted as he ran. "Stop him! Don't let him drive away!!"

    Er Lu yanked the BMW's door open and dragged He Shao out of the car. Maybe Er Lu heard him? Er Lu jabbed a finger into He Shao's chest and began shouting in He Shao's face.

    F*ck!

    Come on, come on, I have to get there!

    Li Yundong pumped his legs faster. At the same time, he activated Eryue too.

    Angry voices filled his ears.

    "Out of my way, you f*cker!"

    "Not until you take my mother to the hospital!"

    "I don't have time for your bullshit!" He Shao removed something from his pocket and tossed it at Er Lu's face. "Here! That's enough to cover her medical fees! Take her to the hospital yourself! Now move! Get out of my way!"

    Er Lu slammed He Shao's body against the BMW's door.

    "She's not going to f*cking make it if you don't take her now, you sick f*ck!"

    He Shao struggled against Er Lu. "I said I don't have time!"

    "I don't care!!! Load my mom into the car! Now!"

    He Shao was reaching for something behind his waist. "Let go of me! I'm warning you!!"

    "I said—"

    "No!!!!!" Li Yundong screamed.

    BANG! BANG! BANG!

    Li Yundong came to a halt about 100 meters away from the BMW, too stunned to keep running. Er Lu crumpled limply to the ground.

    Li Yundong could feel his fist trembling at his sides.

    Then, he heard a long, grief-stricken wail of a woman.

    "Give me back my son, you monster!!!"

    The slamming of the BMW's door brought Li Yundong out of his stupor, and he broke into a sprint again.

    I'm gonna kill him… I'm gonna f*cking kill—

    The BMW began to move even though the vegetable stall owner was still lying in the middle of the road.

    "No!! Don't you dare!!" Li Yundong bridged his Three Gates and cocked his fist back, fully prepared to unleash a shockwave towards the car. "Don't you f*cking—"

    Too late. The BMW's wheel creaked. The roof of the car rose once, then twice…

    Blood spilled from the woman's lips as the BMW's left front wheel and left back wheel rolled across her chest.

    The BMW sped away with a loud vroom.

    Li Yundong stared at the massacre in front of him. Two more had died. He Shao had killed two more people. And all because Li Yundong had arrived too late to stop him.

    Anger flared inside Li Yundong.

    "He Shao!!!!!"

    Li Yundong punched the air, which exploded in a soundless clap. A huge shockwave tumbled along the street. A loud smash and a metallic crunch sounded a moment later followed by the sound of shattering glass. Up ahead, the BMW skidded to a stop.

    A few seconds later, however, the BMW's engine came to life, and the car sped off once more.

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  • Chapter 153 Retribution (Part 1)

    The asphalt cracked under Li Yundong's feet when he landed in the middle of the road like a golden meteorite. They had just reached the suburban area, and Li Yundong was finally gaining on the BMW.

    Don't let him get away… Don't let him get away…

    Images filled Li Yundong's head. Images of He Shao's terrible deeds, the people he had killed: Deng Yu and Deng Jiao's ruined faces; Er Lu, with three bullets lodged in his chest; Er Lu's mother, with her upper body completely squashed; and God knew how many more in the past.

    Anger surged inside Li Yundong. He roared into the night, and then leaped into the air once more. His body shot into the air like a projectile. Two seconds later, he landed 15 meters away from where he leaped. Up ahead, the BMW's taillights flashed provocatively as it sped away.

    "Come on!" Li Yundong leaped again, covering yet another 15 meters of horizontal distance. "You evil son of a bitch!!!" Li Yundong leaped again and again, propelling himself closer and closer to the BMW. The way he was moving made him feel like the Incredible Hulk (except that he was golden instead of green): angry, turbulent, and with a profound need to smash anything in sight.

    Suddenly, the BMW skidded sideways, and then...

    "Leave me alone!!!!" BANG! BANG! BANG!

    The bullets ricocheted off the golden aura surrounding Li Yundong's body.

    Heat shot out from the top of Li Yundong's head. "Not a chance!!!" He charged forward. He Shao's screams of horror were like coals fueling his wrath.

    That's right. Know the meaning of terror... Fear me... Fear justice!

    Li Yundong's feet slammed into the asphalt when he landed on the road. He looked ahead. The car was now 50 meters away. Li Yundong palmed a piece of rock in his hand, and then leaped into the air once more. When he landed, Li Yundong hurled the piece of rock at the car, and then leaped into the air again. SMASH! One of the BMW's taillights shattered.

    Li Yundong landed on the ground to see the BMW swerving back and forth between lanes.

    He Shao's screams pierced through the night, fueling Li Yundong's anger further.

    Scream… Scream all you want… Nothing can save you this time. Not your money. Not your status!

    THUD! THUD! Li Yundong made two more leaps.

    BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

    The bullets bounced uselessly off the golden aura.

    "I won't let you kill anyone else!" Li Yundong sprang forward. And I will give you a taste of hell.

    THUD!

    Li Yundong's hands shot out at the same time he landed on the ground; his fingers touched the car's surface. The BMW swerved to the left lane, and his fingers slipped off before he could get a firm grip.

    "God damn it!" The ground cracked when Li Yundong's fist smashed into it. With a feral growl, he leaped again.

    THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!

    Come on… come on… come on!!!!

    The BMW's tires screeched when it made a sharp right turn at a junction ahead.

    "Damn you!!!" Li Yundong made a desperate leap and landed somewhere near the junction. After a few steps, he rounded the corner and noticed the BMW hurtling along the road leading to the city limits. Li Yundong broke off into a sprint and then, using the forward momentum he'd gained, made a giant leap into the air. THUD! His hands missed the car by inches. F*ck!

    Just then, something caught his attention. An open, grassy plain stretched out on the left side of the road. Glaring at the BMW in front, Li Yundong bridged his Three Gates.

    Time to end this.

    Li Yundong punched the air in front of him. The shockwave tore through the air and struck the BMW's rear end from the side. A loud screech sounded as the BMW's body pivoted around its front wheels.

    Then, everything fell silent.

    When Li Yundong lowered his fist, the BMW's headlights shone in his eyes. The car had done a complete one-eighty while it was skidding around just now. The head of the car was now pointed straight at him.

    Growling, Li Yundong moved his feet and strode towards the car. The windshield had shattered, so Li Yundong could see He Shao's pale face staring right at him. How many people had stared at that vile face as they died? How many times had that face struck fear in the hearts of good people? How many dreams and futures had this foul creature crushed with his money and status? Karma had punished Zhao Yujian. Why hadn't it punished He Shao?

    Then it hit him. A simple yet powerful truth.

    This was the working of karma.

    I am He Shao's karma…   

    The BMW's engine rumbled.

    A moment later, the car surged forward, but Li Yundong kept walking towards it without fear. As the BMW picked up speed, the trembling muzzle of a handgun rose in front of He Shao's face.

    BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

    Li Yundong walked on as though nothing happened, smirking when he saw He Shao tossing the gun aside to grip the steering wheel with both hands.

    The BMW's loud vroom tore through the night.

    "Die, dammit!!! Die!!!!" He Shao yelled. "Why won't you just die and leave me alone!!!"

    Li Yundong slammed his palms onto the BMW's hood while his feet slid back a few meters. The metal hood groaned under Li Yundong's palms. Then, the car stopped moving.

    "It's over, He Shao!!!"

    Sparks danced around Li Yundong's face when he brought his palms together and crushed the BMW's engine bay. The rumbling of the engine stopped.

    He Shao released his hands from the wheel and fumbled around to unbuckle his seatbelt.

    "Give it up! You're not getting away!!" Li Yundong grabbed the bottom of the car's chassis and then flung the car to his left side. The vehicle tumbled over the road's guard rail and rolled onto the grassy plain below the road. Seconds later, the car stopped rolling and lay on its roof amidst strips of tall weeds. Li Yundong leaped over the guard rail. The grass felt soft and fluffy beneath his feet, so unlike what he was about to do in the next few minutes.

    Li Yundong looked towards the wreckage. The door of the driver's seat flung open, and He Shao crawled out of the car.

    Li Yundong released a low growl.

    "Now, you're finished."

    ***

    Zi Yuan hovered in the night sky hundreds of meters above Tiannan University. She had traced the Jindan's Aura to somewhere around this area. Zi Yuan scanned the grounds below her. The Jindan's Heir had followed the culprit here, Zi Yuan was sure of it.

    But why here? Why did the culprit come this way?

    A green flash beside her announced Hongling's arrival.

    "Elder Sister! Where is he? Is he here?" Hongling said, sounding a little out of breath.

    "I can feel the Jindan's Aura, so he's got to be here somewhere." Zi Yuan gave Hongling a pointed look. "Scout out the area."

    "Right away, Elder Sister!" Hongling disappeared in another green flash.

    The night breeze caressed Zi Yuan's face. She sighed into the night. What on earth is happening, Master? Do these events mean anything at all? What were you trying to tell me?

    Zi Yuan could've gone after the Jindan's Heir and He Shao much earlier if Su Chan hadn't passed out in front of the gates just now. Zi Yuan didn't have the heart to leave Su Chan lying there, so she asked the girl who came in the Audi—Zhou Qin was her name—to book a room for Su Chan at the hotel's reception. Zhou Qin complied, and by the time Zi Yuan and Hongling carried Su Chan to the room, the police had already arrived at the hotel.

    After that, Zi Yuan decided to go after the Jindan's Heir, leaving Zhou Qin to deal with the police. Before Zi Yuan left the hotel, she ordered Hongling to cast a healing spell on Su Chan. In any case, Su Chan would be up and awake in no time.

    Zi Yuan shook her head wryly at the thought of Su Chan. That impulsive girl would've died if Zi Yuan hadn't stepped in earlier and shielded her from the Jindan's Aura. Even so, Zi Yuan had to admire the girl's selflessness. Su Chan clearly valued Li Yundong's life more than her own.

    Doubt niggled at Zi Yuan's mind.

    Was it possible after all? Was it really possible for genuine love to exist between humans and fox spirits? Was the entire Cultivation world wrong about fox spirits? But the Mystical Silver Fox...

    A green flash announced Hongling's returned. "Found something, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    Zi Yuan turned around and saw Hongling's grim expression.

    Something terrible had happened.

    Zi Yuan sighed. "How many?"

    Hongling's lips trembled. "Two." Hongling hesitated for a moment. "I think it's best if I show you, Elder Sister."

    ***

    Zi Yuan stared at the two dead bodies in front of her, aghast at the cruelty behind those deaths. The man had died from three GSWs to the chest. But the woman...

    Bile rose to Zi Yuan's throat. The poor woman's torso was completely crushed. Flattened, no doubt by the weight of a car.

    Hongling's scream of anger tore through the night. "How can anyone be capable of such terrible acts?!"

    "Hongling..." Zi Yuan said.

    "Argh! Li Yundong is right, Elder Sister! That man needs to be exterminated!" Hongling yelled. "And if Li Yundong doesn't do it, then I will!"

    "Stop it, Hongling!" Zi Yuan said sharply. "Have you forgotten about the commandment?"

    A red flush crept up Hongling's face. She looked like she was holding back tears.

    Zi Yuan took in their surroundings once again. The place was eerily quiet and deserted. No doubt there weren't any eyewitnesses around when this horror took place. Zi Yuan had already figured out why He Shao had driven all the way here. It was obvious to her now that He Shao was trying to flee the city. In that case...

    All she had to do was to follow this road and then catch up to Li Yundong before he brought disaster upon himself by breaking one of the biggest commandments in the Cultivation world.

    A Cultivator should never take the life of a mortal with their skills. The violation of that sacred commandment would bring instant death to the Cultivator—he or she would be struck by the Heavenly Thunder.

    Granted, they might have to let He Shao go for the time being, but it shouldn't be too difficult for Zi Yuan to track him down afterwards. Although the Zhengyi School forbade its members to involve themselves in worldly matters, Zi Yuan agreed that an evil man like He Shao had to be stopped.

    Zi Yuan didn't have to do much, of course. She could just give a little tip to the police once she tracked down He Shao's location, and the police would handle the rest. Then, she would pull some strings and use the Zhengyi School's influence in the upper echelon of the government to ensure that He Shao stay in jail for the rest of his life.

    "Come, Hongling," Zi Yuan said as she floated away from the crime scene.

    Hongling complied wordlessly and floated towards Zi Yuan.

    "Let's follow this road," Zi Yuan said.

    A minute later, Zi Yuan and Hongling were floating fifty meters above the road. Zi Yuan could feel the Jindan's Aura growing stronger, so they must be getting closer to Li Yundong. Along the way, they'd passed by a series of dents on the pavement, each approximately 15 to 20 meters apart. There could be no doubt how those dents came about.

    There was a loud screech. Zi Yuan paused midflight and looked towards Hongling. Hongling was staring back at her with wide eyes.

    "Up!" Zi Yuan ordered. "Tell me what you see!"

    Hongling nodded and shot higher into the air. Zi Yuan flew after her protégé.

    "There!" Hongling pointed to her ten o'clock.

    Before Zi Yuan could speak, a series of gunshots rang out.

    "Move in!" Zi Yuan said, then flew towards the location.

    "My God, Elder Sister!" Hongling screamed. "Look!"

    Li Yundong had just flipped the entire BMW over the guard rail. Good God, such tremendous strength...

    "Left," Zi Yuan ordered. "To the field. Quickly!"

    Ten seconds later, Zi Yuan and Hongling hovered above a wide field with no vegetation other than grass and weeds.

    "Wait!" Zi Yuan's hand shot out, preventing Hongling from flying straight down.

    Li Yundong was now crossing the field towards the wrecked car, where He Shao was crawling out on all fours.

    "This could get messy," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off the scene below. "The seal I placed isn't foolproof. I might've underestimated the Jindan's Aura after all..."

    Hongling's arm trembled slightly. "Then... Then what do we do?"

    Zi Yuan went over their options silently. The wind howled around them as though reminding them that a storm was coming.

    "I'll talk to him," Zi Yuan said, after a few moments.

    "What about me?" Hongling asked.

    "Call Zhou Qin," Zi Yuan said, finally looking at Hongling. "Give her our location. Ask her to bring Su Chan here as soon as possible."

    Hongling's face scrunched up in confusion. "What? Su Chan? Why—"

    Zi Yuan silenced Hongling with a shake of her head. "I don't think the Jindan's Heir will listen to anything we have to say. But he might listen to her." Zi Yuan gave Hongling a pointed look. "Did you use the healing spell on her?"

    Hongling nodded. "Of course."

    Zi Yuan sighed inwardly, glad that Hongling had carried out her order. Good. At least Hongling had gotten over some of her dislike towards Su Chan. "Then she should be awake by now. Ask Zhou Qin to bring Su Chan here as soon as possible."

    As Hongling got to work, Zi Yuan lowered herself to the field.

    Time to confront the Jindan's Heir.


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  • Chapter 153 Retribution (Part 2)

    Zi Yuan planted herself between Li Yundong and the overturned car. "That's enough, Li Yundong."

    Li Yundong stopped walking and stared into Zi Yuan's eyes. The intensity behind those eyes took Zi Yuan by surprise. Never in Zi Yuan's life had she encountered someone who could stare her down without feeling even the slightest hint of reverence.

    At that moment, Li Yundong's eyes were the very definition of determination and fearlessness. Zi Yuan's eyes darted towards He Shao, who was sitting on the ground with his back leaning against the overturned car. The man appeared to be in a daze, but seemed unharmed other than a few scratches on his face.

    Zi Yuan returned her gaze to Li Yundong. A golden radiance coated the surface of his skin courtesy of the Jindan's Aura. This was the most primitive form of the Jindan's Aura, much to Zi Yuan's relief. In its more advanced form, the Jindan's Aura draws out the user's Qi to form a powerful protective barrier around him or her. The radius of the barrier would depend on the amount of Qi the user possesses.

    Looks like the seal is still intact...

    Zi Yuan sighed inwardly.

    "Are you here to stop me as well?" said Li Yundong in a steely tone.

    Hongling descended from the sky and landed somewhere behind Li Yundong. Zi Yuan met Li Yundong's gaze. "What do you think you're doing, Li Yundong?"

    Something flashed inside Li Yundong's eyes. "Something that should've been done a long time ago," he growled, taking a huge step towards Zi Yuan.

    "Calm yourself," Zi Yuan said, holding up her palm. "You've done enough. Now leave the rest to the law."

    "The law?" Li Yundong scoffed. "You think the law is enough to make this lowlife pay for everything he's done?"

    "Yes," Zi Yuan said. "But only if you let it."

    Li Yundong bared his teeth and pointed at He Shao angrily. "Then why is he out on the streets in the first place! Why isn't he rotting in jail already?! Why hasn't he been executed and sent straight to hell where he f*cking belongs!!!"

    Zi Yuan was stunned into silence. Somewhere beside them, He Shao whimpered.

    "Answer me!!!"

    A golden blaze dazzled Zi Yuan's eyes for a moment. A strong gust of wind hit her square in the face.

    Zi Yuan forced her eyes open, blinking a few times.

    "And what is your grand plan? Beat the guy to death?" Zi Yuan raised her brow. "If you do that, then you're just like him." Zi Yuan jerked her chin towards He Shao. "A murderer."

    Come on... come on... bite... bite.

    Silence fell between them.

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan, his expression unreadable.

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong laughed.

    "Beat him to death? Oh, no, no... You're way off the mark. I'm not going to beat him to death. That would be going easy on him." Li Yundong glared at He Shao. "What I'm planning is much, much, worse."

    Chills travelled down Zi Yuan's spine. "I don't suppose you mean tossing him into jail..."

    "How many times do I have to tell you—" Li Yundong suddenly turned around to look at something over his shoulder. "You try anything funny and I won't show you any mercy this time!"

    Zi Yuan's eyes shot up just in time to see Hongling stilling her movements behind Li Yundong. Fear coursed through Zi Yuan. Not for herself, but for Hongling.

    "Stand down, Hongling! Haven't you learned your lesson last time?"

    Foolish girl. Even when untrained, the Jindan's Heir was a force to be reckoned with. Hongling was no match for him, not with the Jindan's Aura activated.

    "Look," Zi Yuan said with a gentle tone. "I understand the rage you're feeling—"

    "You don't understand a thing!!!"

    Golden light flashed, dazzling Zi Yuan's eyes. She raised a hand to shield her eyes from the glare.

    "Do you know that he's killed two more people tonight?! Do you?!" Li Yundong shouted, pointing a trembling finger at He Shao on the ground. "He put three rounds in a man's chest and then drove his f*cking car over the man's mother! His mother!!!"

    Something shifted on the ground. From the corner of her eyes, Zi Yuan saw He Shao pushing himself away from the car.

    "T- They asked for it! I gave them a chance to move!"

    "Shut your filthy mouth!!!" The air in front of Li Yundong exploded. The shockwave slammed into the side of the overturned car, sending it tumbling into the air.

    The car landed with a loud crash further out into the field.

    Zi Yuan looked towards the car, then back at Li Yundong again. Barely two months had passed since the Jindan was stolen, so the Jindan's Heir couldn't have been exposed to the art of Cultivation for more than a month. Yet look at all the stuff he was doing. Even for a talented Cultivator, it would take years to learn how to bridge the Three Gates properly.

    After everything she had witnessed so far, Zi Yuan knew one thing for sure: this guy had an insane amount of aptitude for Cultivation.

    Zi Yuan detected more movement from the corner of her eyes. Behind Li Yundong, her protégé was slowly backing away from Li Yundong.

    Oh, so now she's afraid...

    Zi Yuan looked away from Hongling when Li Yundong took another step towards He Shao.

    "A chance? Are you seriously talking about giving chances right now, you piece of shit? You gave them a chance!" Li Yundong laughed snidely. "Give me a f*cking break!" Li Yundong stopped laughing. His expression suddenly became harsh and stony. "And what about those two girls? Did you give them a chance before you raped them and drove them to their deaths?"

    He Shao whimpered.

    "That's right, He Shao," Li Yundong growled. "You killed them all. So you've got no right! No f*cking right to talk about giving chances!!!"

    Another shockwave blasted through the field, sending pieces of weed flying into the air.

    "Li Yundong..." Zi Yuan tried again. "Calm yourself..."

    "You killed them, you f*cking piece of shit... You murdered all of them in cold blood..." Li Yundong's voice trembled. "You're a f*cking monster... And I'll give you a taste of living hell before I end your worthless life!"

    "Li Yundong!" Zi Yuan snapped. This was getting out of hand. The Jindan had blown his innate sense of justice out of proportion. Before he learned how to control the Jindan's power with his Spirit, there was no way for him to overpower this drive to deliver justice by any means necessary. It was like a primal need, an obsession. At this point, Su Chan was probably their only hope of getting through to him.

    Nevertheless, Zi Yuan had to try. As a Cultivator, it was her duty to uphold the sacred commandments of the Cultivation world, one of which Li Yundong was no doubt about to breach.   

    "Come on, Li Yundong... Please, listen to me," Zi Yuan said steadily. "You are the Jindan's Heir. You'll be doing great things in the future. You're destined for greatness. " Zi Yuan stopped talking and pointed at the ground, where He Shao lay. "Don't throw it all away because of that worthless man..."

    Li Yundong's eyes were as hard as steel when they met Zi Yuan's seconds later. "Great things?" He chuckled.

    Zi Yuan's scalp tingled, and she frowned. "What's so funny?"

    Li Yundong stopped laughing and gave her a pointed look. "Why do I have to wait until the future to do great things when I can start now?"

    Zi Yuan's frown deepened. "What?"

    "Let this be the first great thing I do!" Li Yundong broke their eye contact and glared at He Shao on the ground. "Ridding the world of that evil scumbag!!"

    He Shao's scream echoed through the night.

    Oh, no!

    Zi Yuan's lips began to move when she saw Li Yundong charging towards He Shao. Seconds later, she raised her palm, and Li Yundong's body levitated off the ground when he was a few feet away from He Shao.

    That was close…

    Li Yundong turned his head and glared at Zi Yuan. "What the hell did you do!" he snarled, flailing his arms and legs. "If you're not trying to help, then stop getting in my way!"

    Zi Yuan moved her palm slightly. Li Yundong's body moved through the air until he was hovering in front of her.

    "Beating him to death won't solve anything," Zi Yuan said calmly.

    "You're wrong!" Li Yundong growled dangerously, then turned his head sharply towards He Shao. "I never said I was going to beat him to death... In fact, I'm going to end his pathetic life without even touching him. And when I'm done, there won't be anything left of him!"

    The implications of Li Yundong's words echoed inside her mind. What? Chills travelled down Zi Yuan's spine. What was he talking about? Was he planning to use a spell?

    "You're bluffing," Zi Yuan said coldly. "You need to reach the Shentong phase before you can use spells. You haven't even passed the Zhuji phase yet."

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong's arms stopped flailing. Then, Zi Yuan heard a loud gasp. Zi Yuan glanced towards the source of the voice.

    Hongling stared back at her with wide, fearful eyes.

    "Hongling..." Zi Yuan narrowed her eyes. "What do you know that you didn't tell me?"

  • Li Yundong laughed darkly. "I think she's referring to this."

    Li Yundong pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket. The paper was brown in color, and there were four words printed on it.

    Shock coursed through Zi Yuan.

    There was no mistaking those words: Heavenly Thunder Slays Evil.

    The Jindan's coming ordains thine fate. The sound of the first thunder shalt complete thine soul…

    The sound of the first thunder. Was this what Master's prophecy was referring to? The Five Thunders Spell?

    Li Yundong gave the talisman a quick flick.

    Not a chance! Zi Yuan raised her free hand, and the talisman shot out of Li Yundong's grasp.

    "No!!! Give it back!" Li Yundong swung his arms like a maniac.

    The talisman fluttered in the air a few times before it landed in Zi Yuan's palm seconds later. Zi Yuan studied the talisman briefly. This talisman required Qi activation. And it was protected by some kind of spell against physical damage, so it was impossible to destroy it.

    After a while, Li Yundong stopped moving.

    "Fine!" Li Yundong said, pointing a finger at Zi Yuan. "Since you're so against me using the spell, why don't you do it then? Cast the spell and send that son of a bitch to hell!"

    "No," Zi Yuan said coldly.

    Li Yundong lowered his finger and gaped at Zi Yuan for a moment.

    "What do you mean, no?"

    "Cultivators are aren't allowed to harm mortals with spells. That has been our commandment for thousands of years."

    "That's bullshit!" Li Yundong snapped, then jabbed his finger at He Shao. "Use it! Cast the spell!"

    "I refuse," Zi Yuan said.

    Li Yundong sneered. "Fine! Give me the talisman then!" Li Yundong held out his hand. "Since you're too much of a coward to do it, then I'll do it for you! Give it to me!"

    "You don't understand! We're stopping you for your own good!" Hongling spoke for the first time since she landed on the ground. "Any Cultivator who takes a mortal's life with a spell will suffer divine punishment! Don't you get it? You'll be struck by Heavenly Thunder if you go through with this! Your soul will be destroyed!"

    Li Yundong's eyes flashed in anger. "Then it is destroyed!"

    "Wha-" Hongling's mouth dropped open. "Y- You're joking..."

    Li Yundong huffed out a breath. "If I die, then I die. At least I'd die knowing that nobody else would suffer at the hands of that piece of trash!"

    Hongling opened her mouth to argue.

    "Don't try to convince me! It's pointless!" Li Yundong snarled. "My mind's already made up."

    "Then think again!" Zi Yuan said sharply. "Reconsider!"

    "Give. Me. The. Talisman!"

    "Why, so you can use it to desecrate our one of our most sacred commandments? I will not tolerate such sacrilege!"

    "I said give it to me!" Li Yundong paddled his arms and legs as though he was swimming in mid-air.

    "What are you trying to prove? That you're above the traditions upheld by Cultivators for millennia?"

    "I'm not trying to prove anything, you hypocritical fools!"

    Anger rose in Zi Yuan. "You—" She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath. When she spoke again, her voice was much calmer. "Those commandments exist for a reason, Li Yundong."

    "What reason?!" Li Yundong snarled. "To allow scums like He Shao to live freely, to murder innocent people, to oppress and trample over the poor and less fortunate?! Is that the so-called reason for your bullshit traditions?"

    "How dare—"

    "No!" Li Yundong barked. "I will not in good conscience allow someone that evil to walk away unpunished. I will not!"

    "He will receive his punishment in due time." Zi Yuan said patiently. "You just have to let nature take its course. The Heavens shall decide that man's final punishment—"

    Li Yundong's eyes flashed. "And what if this…" Li Yundong spread out his arms. "All of this, is the will of the Heavens! What if I'm meant to do this! Have you considered that possibility?" Li Yundong let his arms drop limply to his sides. "Hasn't that man caused enough death and suffering to incur the wrath of the Heavens—"

    "Enough!" Zi Yuan yelled. "Who do you think you are! You think you have the right to act on behalf of the Heavens just because you're the Jindan's Heir? That's hubris!"

    "Hubris…" Li Yundong said weakly, then lowered his gaze to the ground.

    Silence fell.

    Zi Yuan shared a glance with Hongling. Had they done it? Had they finally convinced him?

    Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong again. "You have to look at the bigger picture here," she said carefully. "There will be grave consequences if you use that spell on him. Not just to you, but to the entire world of Cultivation as well. That sacred commandment is the thing that's been keeping the Cultivation world and the mortal world in a state of balance for generations! Mortals and Cultivators can co-exist as long as one side doesn't interfere with the affairs of the other. Just think for a second what would happen if even one Cultivator breaks that commandment. Other Cultivators would be tempted to do the same. Cultivation schools would start wars with other schools or even start terrorizing the mortal world! The entire Cultivation world would fall into chaos."

    "Cultivation schools…" A dark chuckle escaped Li Yundong's lips. "Now I see what this is all about." Li Yundong raised his head sharply. "Self-preservation. This is all about self-preservation!"

    Zi Yuan felt all the air leave her lungs the moment their gazes locked. It was like those eyes had pierced through her soul.

    Li Yundong pointed an accusatory finger at Zi Yuan. "You don't give a damn about what goes on in the mortal world, do you? All you care about is preserving the good name of your school…" Li Yundong laughed mockingly. "And yet you parade among mortals, acting all high and mighty like you're all a bunch of saints who embody everything virtuous and wise." Li Yundong shook his head. "But the truth is that you people don't even understand the simple notion that magic, like everything else in the world, is just a tool!

    "What, you think a few rules are enough to prevent Cultivators from abusing their powers if they want to?" Li Yundong sneered. "How stupid can you people get?"

    Zi Yuan clenched her jaw, but she didn't stop Li Yundong's tirade.

    "So you have a bunch of commandments in place. So f*cking what! Have there never been schools or sects in the past who tried to start wars? Have there never been any acts of rebellion in the Cultivation world? Please. Don't kid yourself. How much blood was spilled over the Renyuan Jindan? How many Cultivators, or even mortals, have lost their lives to obtain it? You think a few rules can prevent Cultivators from going rogue when they see something they want? If you truly think that, then y'all just a bunch of blind and deluded fools!"

    Zi Yuan was stunned, struck by the truth behind Li Yundong's words. None of the commandments had prevented the Mystical Silver Fox from wreaking havoc in the Cultivation world back then. And everything he said about the Renyuan Jindan was on point.

    "You call yourselves Cultivators, but what have you people spent thousands of years inside the mountains cultivating?" Li Yundong bared his teeth. "Bigotry? Cowardice? Selfishness? Hubris?"

    "You live and walk among mortals, thinking that you're above them, that you're morally superior to them, but the truth is that there isn't a single ounce of virtue in you! Justice? The greater good?" Li Yundong laughed snidely. "You don't give a shit about the greater good… All you care about is yourself and the reputation of your school!"

    A pause ensued with the only audible sound being Li Yundong's heavy breathing.

    "You people could've used your powers to save lives! You could've used your powers to help the weak or those in need, and to punish those who deserves punishment! And you wanna know something else? I've seen mere mortals with kinder hearts and greater selflessness than you so-called Cultivators! The firemen! The doctors and nurses! The police officers! These are people without any powers who risk their lives on a daily basis for people they don't even know! And you!" Li Yundong pointed at Zi Yuan. "You people! What good have you ever done for the world, huh! How many lives have you saved? None! You people have done nothing despite having all these powers! Hell, you're even willing to turn a blind eye to evil deeds that are happening right under your noses! And all for what? To observe a bunch of dumbass traditions! Shame on you! Shame on all of you!!!"

    Zi Yuan recovered her composure and cleared her throat. "Who says we're turning a blind eye? There are just other ways to—"

    "Don't you get it yet?!"

    A flash of golden light radiated from Li Yundong's body. Zi Yuan shielded her eyes with her hand once again.

    "The law isn't enough to stop that bastard from killing! With enough money, power, and human resources at his disposal, that son of a bitch can kill even from inside a prison cell!"

    Again, Zi Yuan was stunned into silence.

    "No… A prison cell won't cut it…" Li Yundong's voice had suddenly turned eerily calm. When Zi Yuan lowered her hand from her eyes, she saw Li Yundong pointing at He Shao on the ground. "This man has to be exterminated for good!"

    He Shao started screaming in fear at that point, but Li Yundong kept talking as though he didn't hear anything.
  • "Can you imagine how many more he will kill if you let him walk away alive tonight? How many more bloodshed will you allow before you're finally willing to bring justice on him?!" Li Yundong laughed. "Let nature take its course, you say? Let the Heavens decide, you say?" Li Yundong slashed his hand through the air, then spread his arms out wide. "Fine! Why don't I let the Heavens decide right now what to do with that scum!"

    Li Yundong tilted his head skyward, then pointed one finger at He Shao.

    "Punish that evil man!" Li Yundong shouted at the sky. "Prove to me that you aren't blind to everything that's been happening on earth! Strike him with your Heavenly Thunder and give him the punishment he deserves! Rid humanity of that scumbag and all his evil deeds!"

    Li Yundong's voice dissolved into distant echoes before silence fell. Behind Li Yundong, Hongling glanced up at the sky. When she lowered her gaze seconds later, Zi Yuan could see the look of utter defeat in her protégé's eyes.

    Li Yundong's words echoed inside Zi Yuan's mind, making her stomach churn. What was the point of Cultivation? Was there no other purpose in Cultivation other than to become a Shenxian?

    In light of Li Yundong's words, the term Cultivation suddenly seemed so… shallow, like it was no different than what those power-hungry mortals were doing—just that instead of money, status, and power, Cultivators sought after immortality and magic.

    But what about virtue? What about compassion? What about the drive to do good? To save lives? To make the world a better place? Shouldn't these things also be part of Cultivation?

    For thousands of years, the orthodox views of the Cultivation world had never been questioned. Every Cultivator in every school had abided by those commandments. Until the Jindan's Heir came along to challenge it. And Zi Yuan had to agree that he'd made some pretty solid points.

    Were the tenets of the Zhengyi School—and all the other Cultivation schools, for that matter—incomplete at best and outright wrong at worst? How had Zi Yuan not seen it earlier?

    "Is this your answer?!"

    Li Yundong's voice jolted Zi Yuan out of her thoughts. Li Yundong was still staring at the sky. Zi Yuan followed Li Yundong's gaze and noted the darkness above them. Clouds drifted past, but the sky appeared calm. It didn't seem like there would be any thunder tonight.

    "Are you going let this man live and subject innocent lives to all his evil deeds?" Li Yundong screamed at the sky. "Or are you just too pompous to care about the lives of the good people on earth, the good people that you're supposed to be watching over!"

    Zi Yuan lowered her gaze from the sky. She couldn't watch this anymore. She couldn't stand the silence, the serenity of the night sky. The implication of that silence was too profound to even fathom.  

    Li Yundong chuckled, causing Zi Yuan to look up sharply once more. When their gazes locked, Zi Yuan felt another chill down her spine.

    "Do you see that, Zhenren Zi? The Heavens are blind…" Li Yundong said, closing his eyes and letting his arms drop limply to his sides. Zi Yuan waited silently for Li Yundong to continue.

    Then, Li Yundong's eyes shot open. "But I am not!"

    Something strange was happening. Zi Yuan could feel it in her bones.

    She stared at Li Yundong warily. "What did you do…?"

    "I might not be well-trained in the art of Cultivation, but I still know a thing or two about resourcefulness."

    "What?"

    "You underestimated me!!!"

    Zi Yuan gasped when the talisman in her hand began to glow.

    "Honglin—"

    Zi Yuan was thrown away by a powerful blast before she could even finish her sentence; the field was now bathed in a blinding gold light. Cursing, Zi Yuan released the Levitation Spell she'd cast on Li Yundong and muttered the incantation for the Qi-repelling spell.

    Green light radiated from her right palm as she landed gracefully on both feet.

    "Hongling!" Zi Yuan yelled. "Hongling! Where are you!!"

    Zi Yuan waited for a response. Up ahead, the Jindan's Aura had fused with Li Yundong's vast Yang Qi to form a homogeneous, sphere-like structure with a radius of approximately 10 meters. Once again, it struck Zi Yuan how vast Li Yundong's Qi reserve was.  

    Tiny talismans fluttered around Zi Yuan's wrist.

    Zi Yuan raised her palm higher.

    "Hongling!!!"

    "I'm over here, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!" Hongling's voice sounded amidst the roaring of the Jindan's Aura.

    Zi Yuan looked up into the sky to see Hongling floating down towards her. Green light spread out from Hongling's palm like a shield.

    Zi Yuan sighed in relief.

    "Are you alright?" Zi Yuan asked when Hongling landed beside her.

    "I'm fine, Elder Sister. What about you?" Hongling asked worriedly. "You were nearer to the blast."

    Zi Yuan waved off Hongling's concern with her free hand, then looked towards Jindan's Heir. "He broke the seal."

    Hongling nodded fearfully.

    "Look at his head," Zi Yuan said. "Do you know what's happening?"

    "Yeah… That's the Convergence of Five Qis and the Crown of Three Flowers happening simultaneously… I can't believe I'm seeing this on someone who hadn't undergone Qi-control training for more than a few months…"

    The Jindan's Heir. Just how much talent did this man possess?

    "Take a look at the Qi surrounding him," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Li Yundong.

    Hongling was silent for a few seconds before she spoke, "It's like his Qi is forming a barrier around him…"

    "That's the advanced form of the Jindan's Aura," Zi Yuan explained. "Right now it's completely out of control."

    "Any woman who gets too close would be drained of her Yin Qi unless she has a way to secure her Qi inside their body."

    The sound of tires screeching interrupted them.

    Zi Yuan turned and saw a white Audi A6 pulling up by the roadside above the field. Too little too late…

    "Stay back!" Zi Yuan yelled.

    Su Chan and Zhou Qin came to a halt beside the guard rail.

    Zi Yuan turned to Hongling. "Let's go to them."

    Hongling nodded.

    Seconds later, Zi Yuan and Hongling regrouped with Su Chan and Zhou Qin.

    "What took you so long?" Zi Yuan snapped, glaring at Su Chan. "You could've just flown here."

    Somehow, Zhou Qin didn't look surprise at all when Zi Yuan mentioned flying. Perhaps the girl had been hanging around Li Yundong for too long.

    "I didn't have enough magic…" Su Chan said weakly.

    "My God… What is going on over there?" Zhou Qin asked, staring down at the field.

    Zi Yuan ignored the question and kept glaring at Su Chan.

    "Was it you?" Zi Yuan asked with a sharp tone. "Did you give him the talisman?"

    Su Chan didn't answer. Instead, she white-knuckled the guard rail and gazed at the field.

    Suddenly, Su Chan leaped over the railing and ran towards the field.

    "No!" Zi Yuan moved in a flash and stood in front of Su Chan to block her path.

    "I have to go help him…" Tears streaked down Su Chan's cheeks. "He'll listen to me and stop the spell!"

    "You'll die before you even get close!" Zi Yuan snapped, raising her right palm to protect them both. "You'll be useless to him dead. So stand back!"

    "But…" Su Chan glanced longingly towards the Jindan's Heir. "We have to do something…"

    "Yeah, we have to do something alright…" Zi Yuan mumbled.

    "Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    Zi Yuan looked up to see Hongling and Zhou Qin approaching them.

    "What should we do, Elder Sister?" Hongling asked. "Should we… Should we contact the sect and request for backup?"

    "No…" Zi Yuan said. "The Zhengyi School won't like this. It would be foolish to involve them."

    "But this is getting out of hand…" Hongling argued weakly.

    Zi Yuan looked towards the golden blaze in the middle of the field.

    "I know," Zi Yuan said with a sigh. "But this needs to be handled with tact. Discretion is of the utmost importance." Zi Yuan gave everyone a pointed look, pausing for an extra second when her gaze landed on Zhou Qin. "Nobody except the people here can know about this, you hear me?"

    "Good," Zi Yuan said when she received collective nods from the other women. Then, Zi Yuan turned to Zhou Qin. "You have considerable influence in Tiannan City, I presume?"

    Zhou Qin snapped to attention. "Yes."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Then now might be a good time to put them to good use."

    Zhou Qin opened her mouth to speak, but Zi Yuan raised a palm to silence her.

    "Don't do it for me," Zi Yuan said. "Do it for him." Zi Yuan jerked her chin towards the field where the Jindan's Aura was still blazing. "I assure you that a lot of people would want him dead if word of what happened here ever gets out."

    Zhou Qin took a deep breath. "Tell me what I can do."

    "I need you to pull some strings and get this entire area sealed off," Zi Yuan said. "Block all the roads leading here. We don't need any onlookers wandering into the area and recording the whole thing on their phones."

    "For how long?" Zhou Qin asked.

    "Until I give the OK."

    Zhou Qin nodded. "Anything else?"

    Zi Yuan thought for a moment. "That's all for now. But I might need you to handle the police once all of this is over. Now go. We don't have much time to lose."

    Zhou Qin's phone was already pressed to her ears by the time she was walking towards her car.

    Zi Yuan turned to Su Chan. "Has he been taught how to perform spells?"

    Su Chan wiped her cheeks and shook her head.

    Zi Yuan cursed inwardly. This was bad. The Five Thunders Spell was perhaps the most difficult spell to master and control. One wrong move and the spell would turn on the caster.

    "Y- Yundong can do it!" Su Chan said all of a sudden. "H- He's a genius!"

    Zi Yuan regarded Su Chan steadily. "Let's just hope you're right."

    "What!" Hongling yelled. "A- Are we seriously going to let him perform the spell?"

    "It's too late to stop him now," Zi Yuan said. "And I doubt anyone can stop him." Zi Yuan glanced at Su Chan. "Yes, not even you."

    Hongling frowned. "But I thought that was the whole point of bringing her here!" Hongling pointed at Su Chan. "You said it yourself that she can persuade him!"

    Zi Yuan turned away from Hongling and looked towards the field where the Jindan's Aura continued its rampage.

    "Perhaps I was mistaken," Zi Yuan whispered. "Perhaps this is all meant to happen."

    "What?"

    "The prophecy, Hongling," Zi Yuan said. "The prophecy…"

    A powerful gale blew past them, rustling the weeds in the field. Zi Yuan looked up into the night sky, where storm clouds had begun to gather directly above the field.

    "Here it comes…" Zi Yuan said.

    So it begins…

    The Jindan's coming ordains thine fate. The sound of the first thunder shalt complete thine soul.

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  • edited March 9

    Chapter 153 Retribution (Part 3)

    Li Yundong picked up the glowing talisman from the ground. The talisman glowed brighter the moment it came into contact with his hand. It was as though the talisman was responding to his touch.

    Li Yundong gathered his Qi at his palm, then watched the glow of the talisman change its color from white to green. Seconds later, the talisman burst into flames, releasing a string of tiny symbols into the air.

    Glowing like embers, the symbols spiraled outwards until it formed a full sphere with Li Yundong at its center. Directly above the field, storm clouds began to gather.

    Moments later, more clouds drifted in from all directions as though they were being summoned by a mysterious force. The wind howled amidst the distant rumbling of thunder.

    A storm was coming.

    All of a sudden, the air grew thick and heavy as though there was a spike in air pressure. Sparks materialized in the air at random, and soon, the golden aura engulfing Li Yundong was crackling with electricity. The symbols surrounding Li Yundong spiraled quicker and quicker as steam began to rise from the top of his head.

    Something strange was happening to his body.

    He soon realized that he wasn't just emitting golden light from the surface of his skin. The color of his skin had actually changed into gold, like he was wearing a shiny golden armor.

    Li Yundong angled his head skywards and released a loud roar. Above the field, the storm clouds tumbled and spun around as though answering his battle cry. Random flashes lit up the clouds as they moved in the air.

    Li Yundong stopped roaring and raised him arms above his head. He held that position for a few seconds, then slowly brought his palms closer together—like he was squeezing an invisible object above his head.

    The storm clouds shifted inwards and slowly condensed into a thick clump.

    Be in harmony with Heaven and Earth… Su Chan's words echoed inside Li Yundong's mind.

    Li Yundong's arms dropped to his sides.

    He glanced around until he saw He Shao's head peeking out from between a bunch of tall weeds.

    He Shao's eyes widened in fear the moment their gazes locked. A second later, He Shao sprang to his feet and started running towards the edge of the field.

    "You're not going anywhere!" Li Yundong slashed his hand across the air. A thin shockwave sliced across the field like a blade and grazed He Shao's left thigh.

    He Shao's body spun into the air like a rag doll before it landed further out into the field.

    Li Yundong's feet began to move. Each step he took would bring him one step closer towards He Shao's death, towards justice.

    He Shao struggled to push himself up, but failed every time he tried.

    "You will pay… You will pay for everything…" Li Yundong growled dangerously. "You will suffer for every crime you've committed… and every person you've murdered in cold blood!" Li Yundong stopped about two feet away from where He Shao lay. "No amount of money, status, and power can save you now…"

    "P- Please... s-s-s-spare me!" He Shao screamed. "Spare me! I-I-I'll give you anything you want! Anything!"

    "You'll give me anything?" Li Yundong laughed darkly. "Well this is what I want! I want you gone from this earth!"

    He Shao started bawling and weeping.

    "P-P-Please… I'll repent! I-I-I'll change!! I w- won't kill again! I swear!"

    "Too late!" Li Yundong yanked He Shao up by the throat, then slammed him down onto the ground. "Your death shall be an example to the world that the Heavens aren't blind to humanity's evil deeds! That the Heavenly Thunder will slay the vile and the wicked!"

    Li Yundong crouched down and grabbed He Shao's left arm.

    "Arrrgghhh! No! No! I'll give you money! Status! Please! Just don't kill me…" He Shao wailed.

    "This is for Deng Yu!!!"

    CRACK! He Shao screamed when Li Yundong broke his left forearm. CRACK! Another scream when Li Yundong snapped He Shao's left wrist.

    He Shao's left arm fell uselessly to the ground when Li Yundong dropped it. Li Yundong shifted on the grass and grabbed He Shao's right arm next.

    "Argh! No! No—"

    "This is for Deng Jiao!!!"

    CRACK! The bones in He Shao's forearm shattered under Li Yundong's crushing grip.

    "Arrgh!!! Arrgh!!"

    He Shao screamed and screamed until his voice became hoarse.

    Li Yundong rose to his feet and stared down at He Shao on the ground.

    "This is for all the women you've raped and violated!!!" Li Yundong raised his leg and then slammed his foot into He Shao's groin.

    "Arrrggghhhh!" He Shao's body curled up like a shrimp.

    With a growl, Li Yundong bent down and forcefully uncurled He Shao's body.

    "Lie still!" Li Yundong yelled. "I'm not done with you yet!"

    He Shao whimpered weakly. "P- Please…"

    Li Yundong picked up a piece of rock and then crushed it with his bare grip. Pieces of rubble fell to the ground when he uncurled his fingers. He bent down and picked up three tiny pebbles from the rubble.

    "This is for Er Lu!!!!" Li Yundong slammed each of the three pebbles into He Shao's chest until they were partially buried in his skin.

    "This is for Er Lu's mother!!! The woman whose chest you crushed with your car!" Li Yundong slammed his foot down onto He Shao's chest until he heard the sound of ribs snapping.

    "This is for all the vicious and disrespectful things you've said!" He Shao's lips ruptured the moment Li Yundong's fist slammed into it.

    "This is for all the cruel and dishonest orders that you've given out." Li Yundong slammed his fist into He Shao's lips again. "And for all the assassinations that you've ordered!" CRACK! A few of He Shao's teeth fell to the grass.

    Blood spilled from He Shao's busted lips as he lay on the ground, wheezing and coughing.

    Li Yundong rose to his feet and walked around until he was standing beside He Shao's feet. Bending down, Li Yundong raised He Shao's leg.

    "This is for all the people you have trampled over and oppressed with your status and power!"

    CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! He Shao's leg fell back to the ground, where it lay as limp as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The ankle and knee joints were both crushed beyond recognition.

    Then, Li Yundong started backing away from He Shao.

    After about four or five steps, Li Yundong stopped walking.

    "And this…" Li Yundong raised his fist into the air. The storm clouds swirled above the field like a maelstrom. White and blue flashes lit up the storm clouds' surface.

    "…is for justice!!!" Li Yundong pointed his right index finger at He Shao.

    A white flash illuminated the entire field as a huge bolt of lightning descended from the storm clouds and engulfed He Shao's body. A loud explosion sounded above. It was as though a bomb had detonated in the sky.

    The air sizzled and crackled around Li Yundong as he struggled to remain upright. It was as though his body had become a vessel for some kind of boundless power, the power to alter the state of the universe with a mere flick of a hand.

    Li Yundong screamed in pain as his body threatened to rip apart from the inside. Be in harmony with the Heaven and Earth… Su Chan's soothing voice rang out inside his mind once again. Be in harmony with the Heaven and Earth…

    Be at peace.

    Li Yundong thought back to all the times he had shared with Su Chan, all the happy memories, the moments of joy and sadness.

    My little chipmunk…

    For the first time since he witnessed the twins' deaths, Li Yundong felt the need to smile.

    I guess this is goodbye then…

    Li Yundong's body sway from side to side.

    By the time his body hit the soft ground, the white flash had already disappeared. So soft… Just like the bed my room…

    Pieces of weed tickled his cheeks when a gentle breeze blew across the field. The scent of charred flesh wafted to his nostrils and lingered there briefly. Li Yundong turned his head slightly and saw the dark hole on the ground. Specks of black ashes rose from the hole. Dark fumes drifted into the air, tilting sideways in the direction of the breeze. There were no signs of He Shao.

    Li Yundong's eyelids grew heavy. He gave the dark hole on the ground one last glance before allowing his eyes to draw shut.

    His work was done.

    The Heavenly Thunder had struck.

    Evil had been slain.


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  • Chapter 154 The Master

    Su Chan's teary face was the first thing Li Yundong saw when he opened his eyes. Blinking a few times, he realized that he was still lying on the ground and Su Chan was sitting right next to him. His body had stopped glowing, much to his relief. He really thought he was going to die just now. Then again, the fact that he was still alive was pretty much moot, since he was about to die soon.

    Hopefully not too soon.

    Li Yundong forced out a smile. "Hey, princess..."

    "Yundong..." Su Chan wailed loudly, then slumped forward until she was lying directly over his torso.

    Li Yundong raised his hand and patted Su Chan's head. "Su Chan... Listen..."

    Su Chan raised her head from his chest and sniffed a few times.

    Li Yundong stroked her cheek. "You have to go now, princess. Get as far away from me as possible..."

    He had just killed a man with a spell. He didn't want Su Chan anywhere near him when the Heavenly Thunder struck.

    The thought of Su Chan dying returned a bit of strength to his weak body.

    "Go!!!" Li Yundong gave Su Chan a hard shove.

    "I'm not going anywhere!" Su Chan crawled back towards Li Yundong.

    Li Yundong bit back a curse.

    "Su Chan..." he said sternly. "You have to go! Now! Go! Before the Heavenly Thun—mmph!"

    Su Chan's hand clamped over his mouth. "Don't say it! Please, don't say it!" Su Chan's shoulders trembled as she sobbed.

    Li Yundong turned his head away and freed his mouth from her hand. Hot tears slid down his own cheeks.

    "Listen to me, princess... Please just go, okay? There's no point in both of us dying..."

    "No, no, no!!! I'm staying! I'm staying! I'm not going anywhere!" Su Chan yelled, then crumpled into a sobbing heap on top of him. "Yundong... Please don't make me leave… I can't live without you... I can't!!!"

    Li Yundong sniffed, feeling the sting of his own tears. "Silly girl... You were living just fine before you met me, weren't you?" Li Yundong patted Su Chan's head. "Go, okay? Go back to your master. She..." He cleared his throat. "She'll keep you safe."

    Su Chan's face rubbed against the front of his shirt as she shook her head wildly. "No, no, no... I won't leave you... I won't leave..."

    Li Yundong grunted and pushed himself into a sitting position. Then, he cupped Su Chan's face and dried her cheeks with the pad of his thumb. "You'll be fine, princess." He smiled wanly at her. "You'll soon forget about me and find someone else to love—"

    "But I don't want anyone else, dammit!" Su Chan cried out. "I want my Yundong!!"

    Li Yundong choked back a sob. "I'm so glad you came into my life, Su Chan. Even though the time we spent together is short—"

    "Don't!!!" Su Chan shrieked. "Don't talk like that!" Su Chan covered her ears and began shaking her head wildly. "I don't wanna hear it! I don't wanna hear it!"

    More tears stung Li Yundong's eyes. He reached up and pried Su Chan's hands away from her ears. She had to hear this whether she liked it or not. This might very well be the last conversation they had with each other.

    "You've brought so much joy into my life, Su Chan. I'm forever grateful to you." He stared deeply into Su Chan's eyes. "I love you."

    Su Chan's face crumpled. "Yundong..." she sobbed. "Please, don't…"

    "I want you to always, always remember something." Li Yundong waited until he was sure he had Su Chan's full attention. "It doesn't matter what everyone is saying about fox spirits. None of it matters. To me, in my eyes, you are the kindest, the cutest, the prettiest, and the most adorable girl to ever live. And… over the short time I've known you, I can say with absolute certainty that you are a good person." Li Yundong tapped Su Chan's chest. "You have a good heart, and you shouldn't let anyone tell you otherwise."

    Su Chan kept shaking her head. "W-Why are you telling me all this?" Su Chan gripped the front of his shirt. "Why are you talking like that?! Don't talk like that! Like you're about to leave me!"

    Li Yundong gave her a sad smile, then pried Su Chan's hands off his shirt. "I guess this is goodbye, Chan'er…"

    They stared at each other for a moment. The look of shock in Su Chan's eyes was almost as intense as the wistful longing in his own eyes.

    "I love you..." Li Yundong whispered, then turned around and ran towards the woods at the edge of the field.

    He had barely taken a few steps before a pair of slender arms wrapped themselves around his waist, bringing him into a complete stop. He turned and saw Su Chan clinging onto his waist like he was her favorite bolster.

    Li Yundong sighed and tried to unwrap her arms from around his waist, but the stubborn girl refused to let go.

    "Please don't make this harder than it already is..." Li Yundong said. "Please let me go, Chan'er…"

    Su Chan shook her head desperately and sent him a pleading look. "Just let me die with you... Let's die together, Yundong—"

    "Don't be stupid, Chan'er!" Li Yundong pushed her away. "You have a full life ahead of you!"

    "But life would be meaningless without you!!!" Su Chan yelled back.

    Li Yundong groaned into his hands, and when he lowered them, he realized that his palms were wet.

    "Don't say that!" he shouted. "That's nonsense! Now stay where you are! Don't follow me!"

    Li Yundong turned around and marched towards the woods. A moment later, a solid weight rammed into his body from behind, sending him tumbling to the ground. A warm body crawled on top of his torso. That familiar weight felt so damned good that he almost didn't want to open his eyes. Warm liquid dripped all over his cheeks and neck. He opened his eyes and saw Su Chan's face hovering inches above his own.

    "Can't you see?" Su Chan hiccupped a few times. "If you die, I'd just kill myself anyway..."

    All of a sudden, Su Chan's face turned into a complete blur. The next thing he knew, his shoulders were shaking violently. His eyes burned with such an intensity that he thought he was going blind.

    "Oh, you stubborn, stubborn girl..."

    Warm palms ran through his hair. "Since we're both going to die anyway, why not spend our final moments together?"

    Li Yundong half-groaned and rolled his head to the side.

    "Please, Yundong…" Su Chan pleaded. "Please don't let me die alone…"

    "I don't want you to die at all…"

    "But life without you is even more painful than death…"

    A sob tore out from Li Yundong's lips. "Goddammit!! This is so unfair! Why do I have to die just because I helped rid this world of an evil man!!"

    Su Chan poked his cheek. "Say yes, Yundong? Please say yes? Let me stay by your side…"

    Li Yundong kept sobbing.

    "I- I promise I'll never steal from your plate again!" Su Chan added. "I'll… I'll even let you call me cheap monk!"

    Li Yundong chuckled despite his tears. After a few moments, he sighed and opened his arms. "Come here, you little chipmunk."

    Su Chan threw her arms around his neck and cried. Li Yundong patted Su Chan's back and stared up into the night sky, breathing in Su Chan's scent. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if Su Chan's scent was the last thing he breathed before death claimed him?

    "Are you sure about this, Su Chan?" Li Yundong asked into Su Chan's hair after a while. "You don't have to die, you know?"

    Su Chan pulled back and wiped her cheeks. "Nonsense," she said. "I told you I'd rather die than live a life without you in it."

    Li Yundong opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by another voice.

    "Not to ruin your little romantic moment or anything... But nobody has to die."

    Li Yundong raised his head from the ground and saw Zi Yuan approaching them from the roadside. Li Yundong looked past Zi Yuan's shoulder and saw Ruan Hongling and Zhou Qin looking straight at him. Both of them had tears in their eyes.

    Li Yundong snapped to attention the moment Zi Yuan got close. He frowned. "What are you talking about? You made it pretty clear just now that I'm doomed the moment I cast the spell..." Then, a thought hit him. Li Yundong's eyes went wide. "Wait. Why aren't I dead yet?"

    Zi Yuan stopped in front of him and smirked. "Ah. Finally you're keeping up."

    Li Yundong's head was spinning. He shook his head a few times, then paused when another thought hit him. He glared daggers at Zi Yuan. "So it was all a lie to stop me from using the spell? Is that it?"

    Zi Yuan gave him a withering look. "No. Everything I told you is the truth."

    Li Yundong spread out his arms. "Then why am I still alive?"

    "That's easy." Zi Yuan smiled. "Because you haven't passed the Zhuji phase yet, of course."

    ***

    Hope coursed through Li Yundong. "Wait, so if I'm alive because I haven't passed the Zhuji phase..." Li Yundong looked into Zi Yuan's eyes. "Then..."

    Zi Yuan smiled. "You'll be safe from the Heavenly Thunder as long as you don't pass the Zhuji phase."

    Li Yundong looked towards Su Chan, who looked just as confused as he felt. It was obvious that Su Chan didn't know anything about this. Otherwise she wouldn't have made a fuss about wanting to die together with him.

    Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan. "But why?"

    Zi Yuan raised a brow at Su Chan. "I'm surprised your master never told you about this."

    Su Chan blushed and looked like she was about to argue, but Li Yundong grabbed her hand. "Easy, princess. Let her finish." He gestured for Zi Yuan to continue.

    "The nature of Cultivation revolves around the pursuit of immortality. And, as you know, immortality isn't part of the natural order of things. All life ends with death eventually. Where there is life, there will be death. To attain immortality is, therefore, to go against the natural order of things."

    "So?"

    "So..." Zi Yuan stared at Li Yundong pointedly. "It is also part of the natural order for those who go against the natural order to suffer divine punishment."

    "Okay?" Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "But what does that have to do with the Zhuji phase?"

    Zi Yuan's expression suddenly turned pensive, like she was thinking hard about something.

    Li Yundong flicked a quick glance at Su Chan, who, much to his surprise, was staring at Zi Yuan reverently.

    After a while, Zi Yuan lips began to move. She raised her right hand and wiggled her fingers. Green tendrils emerged from her fingertips.

    Li Yundong tensed up instantly. "What are you doing?" he said, moving in to shield Su Chan with his body.

    Zi Yuan finished the incantation and gave him a look of amusement. "You really have to start getting used to the idea that I'm on your side."

    Su Chan patted Li Yundong's shoulder from behind. "Relax, Yundong. That's just a projection spell. It's completely harmless."

    Li Yundong glanced at Su Chan briefly, then shot a wary look at Zi Yuan.

    Zi Yuan sighed. "Look over here." Zi Yuan flicked her fingers. The green tendrils danced and weaved in the air until they formed some kind of holographic image—two human figures standing on a flat surface.

    "Okay...?"

    "Imagine a simple world consisting of only two mortals. The flat surface represents the earth, and..." Zi Yuan flicked her fingers again. A round sphere formed around the flat surface. "The sphere is the boundary of the sky, which represents the Heavens."

    Li Yundong stared at the image. "Right. So the whole point of Cultivation is to reach to the sky? To get closer to the Heavens and unite with the Tao?"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Very good. So you get the basic idea of the analogy. Now let's move on." Zi Yuan waved her hand again. The image morphed into an enlarge view of the two human shape figures. "To be closer to the Heavens, you have to be closer to the sky. Now. What do you think these two mortals have do to get closer to the sky using just their bodies?"

    "Without any tools?" Li Yundong asked.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Without any tools."

    "Umm... jump?" Li Yundong ventured a guess.

    Zi Yuan shrugged. "But you'll fall. It won't be permanent."

    "Grow taller..." Su Chan answered.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "That's correct." She flicked her hand, and the two human-shaped figures began to elongate. "When you develop the three fundamental components of life (the Three Treasures), you'll get slightly closer to the Heavens. In terms of the analogy, you will grow taller. And when you do, you'll be able see the sky a bit better." Zi Yuan paused to give Li Yundong a look. "By the way, in case you haven't figured it out already, this growing taller stage refers to the first three phases of Cultivation—the Sutai, Lianqi, and Ningshen phases. These phases develop the Essence, Qi, and Spirit separately."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Right."

    The holographic image changed back to the one with the flat surface and the sphere. "However, there is a limit to how tall you can grow." Zi Yuan wiggled her fingers again. The two human-shaped figures on the flat surface elongated for a moment until the elongation process slowed to a stop. "More has to be done to reach greater heights." Zi Yuan stared at Li Yundong. "This is where the Zhuji phase comes in." Zi Yuan flicked her hand, and all of a sudden, a building appeared under each human-shaped figure. "To reach the Heavens, you need a structure—or in terms of the analogy, a building—for you to stand on. And the Zhuji phase is basically the process of establishing the foundation of that building or structure."

    Li Yundong's mind raced. "So the Heavenly Thunder can only reach those standing on top of buildings..."

    "Indeed. And..." Zi Yuan waved her hand. The two buildings begun to stretch towards the sky. "As you advance through the phases of Cultivation..."

    "You're making your building taller..." Li Yundong said.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "By building on top of the foundational structure obtained during the Zhuji phase."

    "And the taller your building is, the more likely it is for you to be struck by lightning..." Su Chan added.

    Zi Yuan smirked. "Correct. And as a matter of fact..." Zi Yuan arched a brow. "Surviving the Heavenly Thunder is what the 8th phase of Cultivation is all about."

    "The Lightning Retribution phase..." Su Chan whispered.

    The holographic image changed again. A thin film appeared slightly below the surface of the sphere. "Like I said, Cultivation itself is against the natural order of things. So there comes a point in one's Cultivation journey where it would be impossible to move forward without experiencing divine punishment." The two holographic buildings kept rising until they stopped just under the thin film. "There are only two possible outcomes..." The building on the left breached the film. Bolts of—holographic—lightning extended from the surface of the sphere and struck the top of the building. When the building remained intact after nine successive strikes, it kept extending beyond the film until its top merged with the surface of the sphere, after which it glowed brightly. "If you can survive the wrath of the Heavens, you'll achieve transcendence. On the other hand..." When the building on the right pushed beyond the boundary, it crumbled after one of the bolts struck its top. "Failure would lead to the total annihilation of one's soul." The holograms vanished after a final wave of Zi Yuan's hand.

    Li Yundong met Zi Yuan's gaze steadily. "This is a good analogy and all that. But how does it actually work? I mean, surely the Heavens must have some kind of way to pinpoint which Cultivator to strike?" Li Yundong raised his brows. "How, for instance, can the Heavens tell between a person who has passed the Zhuji phase and someone who hasn't?"

    "The Vital Orb..." Su Chan answered.

    "That's correct," Zi Yuan said with a nod. "The presence of the Vital Orb is what separates a person who has passed the Zhuji phase from those who haven't. Without the Vital Orb inside your body, the Heavens would never be able to pinpoint you."

    The penny dropped. "The buildings..." Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan. "In the analogy, the buildings represent Vital Orbs..."

    "Yes."

    "Yundong... Let's forget about the Zhuji phase, okay?" Su Chan shook his arm. "You don't have to pass the Zhuji phase! We... We can go to a place where nobody can find us and... and live a happy life together!"

    Li Yundong gave her a sad smile. "And then become virgins for the rest of our lives?" He chuckled. "Is that what you want?"

    A blush bloomed on Su Chan's cheeks. "M- Meanie! H- How can you be t- thinking about... about that at a time like this!!"

    The sound of a throat clearing interrupted their banter. Li Yundong looked away from Su Chan and found Zi Yuan staring back at him with a guarded expression. "Well..." Zi Yuan cleared her throat again. "If you don't pass the Zhuji phase, you'll be able to live out the rest of your lives peacefully. But..." Zi Yuan sighed. "It also means that your Cultivation journey ends here..."

    "It's okay, Yundong! This is a perfect plan! You can forget about passing the Zhuji phase! We can—"

    "Is that all the Zhengyi School is capable of? Coming up with silly ideas?" A new voice sounded out of nowhere.

    What the hell…?

    Li Yundong glanced around to locate the source of the voice. The voice had been cold, haughty, and most definitely feminine. But he didn't see any woman around, present company excepted.

    An eerie silence descended upon the field. Then, Li Yundong noticed a frown marring Zi Yuan's features. She was also looking past his shoulder at something.

    Li Yundong turned around and squinted through the darkness.

    He realized then that Zi Yuan was staring at the woods, but nobody was there. Frowning, Li Yundong turned back around. Just as Li Yundong was about to ask Zi Yuan what she was staring at, the voice sounded again.

    "Looks like the standards of the Zhengyi School hasn't risen at all even after all these years... What a disappointment."

    A look of recognition formed on Zi Yuan's face. "No... No… It can't be..." she whispered.

    "What is it, Elder Sis—" Ruan Hongling gasped, then pointed a shaky finger at something behind Li Yundong. "T- That sword..."

    Li Yundong turned around abruptly. Sword? What swo—

    A thin strip of white light shone through the darkness of the woods. Seconds later, an object burst through the dark foliage and stabbed itself into the ground. The thin object glowed brighter and brighter until it became so dazzling that Li Yundong had to shield his eyes with his hands. Moments later, the glow waned, and Li Yundong slowly lowered his hands from his eyes.

    There in front of him stood a beautiful sword about three feet long.

    "Yes, Hongling. This is the same sword Master used to carve the prophecy on the Obelisk of Fengchen ten years ago..."

    The word prophecy did ring a bell, but not Obelisk of Fengchen. Li Yundong shot Zi Yuan a questioning look. However, Zi Yuan appeared to be too engrossed with the sword's presence to notice his questioning gaze.

    "B- But that's Master's sword!" Ruan Hongling tugged Zi Yuan's arms. "How come it's here? And who on earth is wielding it?"

    Zi Yuan sighed and pointed at something past Li Yundong's shoulder. "Look..."

    Li Yundong looked over his shoulder and nearly got the fright of his life. When the heck did she…?

    Standing on the hilt of the sword was a beautiful woman with long, straight hair. Then, Li Yundong felt a trembling beside him. Su Chan. Li Yundong looked sideways and saw Su Chan staring at the woman with tears streaking down her cheeks.

    Something tugged inside his chest.

    "Hey, what's wro—"

    Su Chan was up on her feet before Li Yundong could even finish his sentence.

    "Hey! Where do you think you're going?!"

    Su Chan ignored him and kept running towards the woman standing on the sword.

    "Master!!! You're here! I can't believe you came back for Chan'er!!"


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  • Chapter 155 Ao Wushuang

    Li Yundong felt as though he was having some kind of weird dream. First, he summoned a bolt of lightning from the sky and basically barbequed a terrible man to death with it. And then his little chipmunk's infamous master appeared literally out of nowhere.

    Welcome to the proverbial twilight zone.

    "Oh, so you still remember that you have a master, hmm?" said the woman standing on the hilt of the sword.

    Li Yundong didn't like her tone. She sounded way too caustic and so unlike the loving master that Su Chan had so often boasted about.

    "M-Master... I... I…" Su Chan had, apparently, gotten the message that her master wasn't here for a hearty reunion. She had stopped her advance towards the beautiful woman on the sword and was now backing away in fear.

    "Tell me something, Chan'er. How much havoc were you planning to cause before you finally stop your nonsense?!"

    Su Chan flinched.

    "Y- Y- You are the great seven-tailed fox spirit of the Fox Zen School, Ao Wushuang!" Ruan Hongling's voice sounded behind him. "How could... B- But I thought you were dead! And how come you're wielding Bahuang?!"

    Li Yundong turned around sharply to look at Ruan Hongling. The girl's face was now as white as a sheet. Beside Ruan Hongling, Zi Yuan was the very picture of composure and stoicism, though her slightly-parted lips gave Li Yundong the impression that Ao Wushuang's arrival had surprised her as well.

    Li Yundong returned his gaze towards Ao Wushuang, the woman who was Su Chan's master. His eyes darted briefly to the sword under the Ao Wushuang's feet before returning to the woman's face.

    Li Yundong had expected Ao Wushuang to answer Ruan Hongling's question, but Ao Wushuang didn't even spare Ruan Hongling a single glance. Instead, Ao Wushuang had kept her eyes on Su Chan the whole time.

    "Answer me, Chan'er!"

    Su Chan flinched again, then lowered her head.

    Li Yundong clenched his jaw. Enough was enough. With a soft groan, he pushed himself up from the ground and began walking towards Su Chan. As he walked, his joints cracked and his steps felt wobbly.

    That f*cking spell had taken a real toll on his body.

    When he reached Su Chan, he grabbed Su Chan's arm and turned her around to face him.

    "That's your master?" Li Yundong asked without taking his eyes off Ao Wushuang.

    "Mmm! And... And…"

    Li Yundong glanced down at Su Chan, who was busy sneaking fearful glances at Ao Wushuang. "And?" he prompted.

    Su Chan stared up at him with piteous eyes. "And I think she's mad at me..."

    That was probably an understatement. A severe understatement. Li Yundong looked over to Ao Wushuang, then gave Su Chan a reassuring look.

    Squaring his shoulders, Li Yundong took a step in front of Su Chan and met Ao Wushuang cold stare with as much bravado he could muster. "Su Chan has nothing to do with everything that's happened tonight," he said. "I'm the only one responsible."

    "So?" Ao Wushuang arched a brow. "Your mess-ups? Her mess-ups? Same difference. You're both responsible."

    Suddenly, Su Chan poked her head out from his shoulder. "M- Master... It's not like that! This really has nothing to do with Yundong... Everything is my fault!"

    "Hush!" Li Yundong turned around and shot Su Chan a glare.

    Ao Wushuang snorted. "Yeah... Keep arguing whose fault it is. I'm sure that's a good way to solve all your problems."

    Silence fell.

    Li Yundong stared at Su Chan with wide eyes as the implication of Ao Wushuang's words washed over him like a cold shower on a hot day.

    "Master... Are you saying...?" Su Chan's face lit up like a bright star. Before Li Yundong could react, Su Chan jumped up in joy and then ran out from behind his back. "Master, Master, Master! You know a way to help Yundong survive the Heavenly Thunder, don't you? You do, don't you!" Suddenly, Su Chan turned around and beamed at Li Yundong. "See, see, see? I told you my master is the greatest and smartest ever!"

    Then, Su Chan was running towards the sword.

    When she reached the sword, Su Chan grabbed the hem of Ao Wushuang's dress. "Please help Yundong, Master! Please! I... I'll let you accept any punishment you give me! I promise! Just please... help Yundong survive the Heavenly Thunder!"

    Silence ensued as Ao Wushuang regarded Su Chan from the top of the sword.

    Su Chan tried again. "I mean... You do know a way to help Yundong, right?"

    A moment later, Ao Wushuang smirked. "Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I do know of a way."

    Su Chan's eyes sparkled. "Then will you help Yundong? Please? Please?"

    Ao Wushuang leveled a gaze on Li Yundong, then looked down at Su Chan again. "Fine," she said with a tone of amusement, then shrugged. "I'll help him. Sure thing."

    "Yay!!! Yay!!!" Su Chan started jumping up and down. Then, she stopped jumping and ran back towards Li Yundong. "You see? You see? Hah! I told you my master is a genius! I knew she'd know a way!" Su Chan looked towards Ao Wushuang. "When can we start, Master? And what should we do? Tell us! Tell us!"

    "Nope. That was just a lie. Your lover is beyond saving."

    "What—" Su Chan gaped like a fish, and Li Yundong would've found the look on her face hilarious if it weren't for the severity of the situation.

    "B- But Master!"

    Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. "Who do you think I am, child? A Shenxian?" Ao Wushuang glared at Su Chan. "How can you believe anything people tell you without thinking it through first?" Ao Wushuang snorted. "Looks like your time spent in the mortal world hasn't cured you of your naivety!"

    Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Li Yundong. "What if this man turns out to be a liar and a scum? Would you believe everything he tells you without question?"

    Su Chan snapped out of her stupor. "No, no, no... Yundong isn't like that at all! Yundong is nice.... and he... he..." Suddenly, Su Chan took an unconscious step back.

    Lifting his gaze, Li Yundong managed to figure out the source of her discomfort—the dark scowl slowly forming on Ao Wushuang's face.

    "Stay where you are, child!" Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Su Chan.

    Su Chan gasped and suddenly stopped moving.

    Upon closer look, Li Yundong realized with horror that it wasn't that Su Chan didn't want to move, just that she couldn't move. Her back was ramrod straight. Her arms were trapped against her sides, and her legs appeared to be trembling. It was as though she was paralyzed.

    Li Yundong's hackles rose. "What did you do to her!" he yelled, pushing off his feet and charging towards Ao Wushuang.

    However, Ao Wushuang pointed her finger at him before he could take more than three steps. And when she did, it was like the force of gravity had suddenly become a hundred times stronger. His body felt immensely heavy, and soon, he was brought to his knees.

    "What... the... h- hell..." Li Yundong said through gritted teeth.

    "Master!!! No!!! Please don't hurt him! Punish me!" Su Chan yelled. "Punish me instead!"

    Li Yundong raised his gaze. Ao Wushuang had leaped down from the sword and was now gliding towards him. Her movements were light and gentle, a complete contrast to what Li Yundong was feeling right then: like he was carrying a frigging Boeing 737 on his back.

    It's a spell... It's got to be a spell.

    "Let Su Chan go!" Li Yundong yelled. "Punish me instead! I can take whatever you dish out!"

    I hope, he added mentally.

    Ao Wushuang stopped a few feet in front of Li Yundong. "Is that so? You can take any punishment I give? Anything?" she said snidely. "But what can a weakling like you do?"

    "Go ahead, then." Li Yundong glared up at Ao Wushuang. "Try me."

    All of a sudden, Ao Wushuang performed a strange hand sign with her right hand, and the beautiful sword behind her began to emit some kind of strange buzzing sound.

    "Bahuang!!" Ao Wushuang shouted.

    There was a white flash, and the next thing Li Yundong knew, the sword was floating in front of Ao Wushuang. The sword was vibrating and pulsating like it was going to explode any second.

    "Let's see if you can handle this!!" Ao Wushuang pointed a finger at Li Yundong.

    There was an ear-piercing noise—like hundreds of metallic objects being grated. Another blinding flash followed suit. Li Yundong grunted and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes seconds later, he was surrounded by dozens of identical swords.

    "No!!!! Master!!!"

    The sound of clinking metal rang inside his ears as the swords closed him on him from all sides. Shit, shit, shit. How was he supposed to defend himself if he couldn't even f*cking move! He wondered if the Jindan's Aura thingy would appear and save his ass again, preferably right about now. Yeah. Fat chance of that happening considering he couldn't even walk properly minutes ago.

    Li Yundong's eyes darted around frantically. The swords continued to swirl around him. He would definitely be shredded if the swords reached him.

    Damn. What a spell...

    Suddenly, the swords stilled in the air. Slowly, the clones moved in towards the real sword in front of Ao Wushuang. Once all the clones had merged with the real sword, the sword stabbed itself into the ground.

    Ao Wushuang gave Li Yundong a smug look. "Still think you can survive that?"

    "If I say yes, would you let Su Chan go?"

    A dark scowl formed on Ao Wushuang's face. "Insolence!" Ao Wushuang raised her hand and then curled her fingers into a closed fist. Suddenly, the ground beneath Li Yundong began to shift. Li Yundong gasped when he felt something on his thighs. Shit!! A bunch of green vines had appeared from the ground and were now crawling up his thighs. The vines started out as thick as a human thumb. However, by the time they reached his torso and shoulders, the vines had grown as thick as a human leg.

    Thick vines curled around his neck. Ugh... Can't breathe! He was suffocating, and there wasn't a single shit he could do to save himself.

    A moment later, he realized, to his horror, that his windpipe wasn't the only thing being crushed—the vines had engulfed him from head to toe and was now squeezing the hell out of his whole body.

    Then, just when he was about to lose hope, the pressure around his throat eased. The vines fell away from his face and—

    Li Yundong gasped. Shit… When did I...

    He was no longer on the ground. The vines had elevated his body about twenty meters off the ground, like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk. Ao Wushuang walked towards the vines and stopped when she reached the bottom. Then, Li Yundong thought he saw Ao Wushuang running her palm over the vines' surface, but he couldn't really tell from his position—

    Li Yundong hissed in pain. Something was burning his leg. He looked down and, to his absolute horror, realized that the vines had caught fire. The vines scorched his skin, but Li Yundong clenched his jaw and endured the pain. If this was his punishment, then so be it. He wouldn't scream. He wouldn't make a f*cking sound. He didn't want to give Ao Wushuang that satisfaction.

    Suddenly, the vines burst asunder, like a glass shattering. Li Yundong fell to the ground amidst pieces of glowing ember. Seconds later, his head and back slammed into the soft ground. Li Yundong groaned and rolled over.

    "Ahhhh!!!! No!!! Master, no!!! Please stop!!"

    Li Yundong's eyes flew open when he heard Su Chan's scream. Shit!!! A huge boulder was falling rapidly towards him. Li Yundong's eyes fell shut automatically. It was too late to roll himself away so he raised his arms to protect his head.

    The blow never came. Instead, he heard the sound of... running water?

    Li Yundong lowered his arms. The boulder hovered inches above his body and... No. It wasn't that the boulder was floating, rather it was being held up by a film—a finger's thickness—of running water. Li Yundong traced the water to its source: Ao Wushuang's index finger.

    Ao Wushuang smirked and then flicked her index finger. The stream of water undulated in the air and flung the boulder towards the center of the field. THUD! A huge crater appeared on the ground where the boulder had crashed into. A split second later, the boulder disintegrated into a bunch of ashes, which drifted off into the night sky.

    Holy shit...

    Li Yundong stared at Ao Wushuang in awe. This woman was a total badass.

    Ao Wushuang glared at Li Yundong. "I know over 300 spells capable of ending your life in a blink of an eye!" She pointed at the huge crater nearby. "And I've just shown you five of them." Ao Wushuang lowered her finger. "Not even I, a master Cultivator who knows pretty much every spell in existence, dare to defy the sacred commandment of the Cultivation world. But you!!!" Ao Wushuang pointed her finger at Li Yundong. "You're nothing but a nameless weakling, yet what did you do? Defying commandments? Challenging the Heavens?! Such arrogance!"

    Li Yundong lowered his gaze and stared down at his hands. Su Chan's snivels and pleas sounded nearby.

    Was it really wrong of him to use the spell on He Shao? Couldn't anyone else see what a threat He Shao was to the lives of other people? Why did the Heavens even allow He Shao's reign of terror to happen in the first place?

    "And worst..." Ao Wushuang's voice dropped into a menacing growl. Li Yundong looked up from his hands and took note of Ao Wushuang's fuming look. "You even dragged my disciple into your mess! My disciple!! The girl I have come to love as my own daughter!! How dare you!!!" The sword swung out in a wide arc, sending pieces of weed and soil into the air. "You think you can play the hero just because you're the Jindan's Heir?" Ao Wushuang snorted derisively. "The truth is that you're nothing but an amateur! A weakling!"

    Li Yundong lowered his gaze in shame. Ao Wushuang was right. She was absolutely right about him being a weakling. The Jindan was probably wasted on him. Even now, he was still the same old Li Yundong: the weak, pathetic nobody.

    Su Chan would be better off without him.

    "Enough of this," Ao Wushuang said sharply. "You've had your chance to say your goodbyes. Now I'm taking my disciple with me."

    "No, Master!!!" Su Chan screamed. "No! I don't want to leave! Don't take me away... please... don't take me away... I wanna be with Yundong... I want Yundong..."

    "You foolish child!" Ao Wushuang said. "You still want to be around him even after knowing what he's done? Don't you know that when the Heavenly Thunder strikes him, any Cultivator within a ten-mile radius of him will suffer the same fate as him?!"

    "Then I shall die with him!" Su Chan cried. "I don't care if I die as long as I can be with Yundong!"

    "You—" Ao Wushuang closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "You've lost your mind, child!"

    Su Chan crawled towards Ao Wushuang and then clawed at the hem of her skirt. "Please don't separate us, Master... Please... I beg you—"

    "Enough, Su Chan..." Li Yundong said firmly. "Your master is right. You need to go with her."

    Su Chan stared back at him in shock. "What! No! Yundong! We agreed..."

    "Please... Su Chan..." Li Yundong said, finally allowing his tears to fall. "I want the best for you. And this is the best."

    Ao Wushuang snorted. "Looks like you have a heart and some common sense after all." Turning to Su Chan, Ao Wushuang said, "Come, child. Your beloved has agreed. Now let's go."

    ***

    A weight pushed against Zi Yuan's left side. She turned and saw Hongling leaning against her for support. The poor girl looked like she was about to pass out due to shock. Zi Yuan wrapped her arm around Hongling's shoulders. "You alright there, Hongling?"

    When Zi Yuan looked into Hongling's wide eyes, she could see a mixture of fear and awe in them.

    Hongling's lips trembled. "S- She can perform spells from all five elements... That's incredible, Elder Sister…"

    Zi Yuan looked towards the woman who appeared to be physically dragging Su Chan off the ground. She sighed. "That's Senior Wushuang for you... The most powerful Cultivator of the Fox Zen School."

    Even Zi Yuan herself was shocked when Senior Wushuang performed five spells in a row, one from each element: Metal; Wood; Water; Fire; and Earth.

    That was the second mind-blowing thing Zi Yuan had witnessed tonight. The first was, of course, the advanced form of the Jindan's Aura. Li Yundong's Qi reserve was without a doubt one of the most impressive things she'd seen.

    Zi Yuan patted Hongling's arms a few times. Hongling nodded and let go of Zi Yuan's arms.

    "Senior Wushuang..." Zi Yuan said, walking past Li Yundong towards the woman.

    Senior Wushuang turned around and gave Zi Yuan a cold look. Well, cold was an apt description, since that look downright sent chills down Zi Yuan's spine. Not many in the Cultivation world could have that kind of effect on Zi Yuan.

    Senior Wushuang arched her brow at Zi Yuan. "Why? Is the Zhengyi School looking to interfere with the business of my Fox Zen School?"

    Zi Yuan bowed slightly. "We dare not do such thing, Senior Wushuang."

    "Then what is it that you want?"

    Zi Yuan looked towards the sword whose tip was buried in the ground. Bahuang. Her master's sword.

    A white glimmer coated the sword's surface. The sword looked as glorious as Zi Yuan last remembered it.

    "This sword... Bahuang..." Zi Yuan held Senior Wushuang's gaze. "It's a treasured artifact of the Linggong Sect. I was wondering if you could return it to us..."

    There was a brief moment of silence.

    Senior Wushuang's face showed no reaction at all, so Zi Yuan continued, "Also, my master's junior visited the Fox Zen School nine years ago. But unfortunately, no one has seen or heard of her ever since. Do you know of her current whereabouts, Senior Wushuang?"

    Senior Wushuang regarded Zi Yuan with a look amusement. After a while, she laughed. "Your master's fellow junior, you say? How should I know where she is? Also..." Senior Wushuang wrapped her fingers around Bahuang's hilt. "I'm not planning to give this sword to anyone anytime soon." She arched a brow. "You'll have to take it from me yourself if you really wanted it."

    Su Chan yelped when Senior Wushuang suddenly hoisted her up and gave her a piggyback.

    "Master, wait!"

    Senior Wushuang and Su Chan vanished in a burst of green light.

    Zi Yuan sighed weakly. Well, that was worth a try. Shaking her head, Zi Yuan turned around and walked back towards Hongling.

    To Zi Yuan's surprise, Hongling was now looking at Li Yundong with eyes full of pity and concern. Not Zi Yuan would blame her. The poor man looked utterly defeated, like he had just lost a piece of his soul. Then again, maybe he did. After everything she'd witnessed tonight, Zi Yuan could tell that Li Yundong and Su Chan loved each other dearly.

    There was a sharp tug on Zi Yuan's sleeve. She turned and met Hongling's stare.

    "Elder Sister Zi Yuan... He..."

    Gosh. Was Hongling about to cry?

    Zi Yuan had honestly never seen Hongling look so sad and melancholic.

    "There's nothing more we can do to help him, Hongling."

    Hongling nodded and released Zi Yuan's sleeve.

    Zi Yuan glanced around until she located Zhou Qin beside the guard rail. The woman looked like she wanted to rush over to Li Yundong but was in too much shock to do so.

    Alright. Time to clean up the mess…

    "Hongling," Zi Yuan said.

    "Yes, Elder Sister."

    Zi Yuan looked past the guard rail towards the road. "Secure the perimeter. I know I've asked Zhou Qin to seal off the area earlier, but I need you to check nonetheless. I don't want a single word about tonight's incident getting out."

    "I'm on it!" Hongling took off into the sky.

    When Hongling was gone, Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong's dejected form again.

    Had the Jindan's Heir reached the end of the line?

    ***

    Ao Wushuang noticed that something was very wrong once they were about ten miles away from where they'd taken off earlier. Su Chan had gotten too quiet. Her cute disciple was no longer crying, begging, and screaming.

    Frowning, Ao Wushuang turned her head to check on Su Chan.

    Her blood ran cold. "Foolish child!"

    Ao Wushuang quickly scanned the grounds beneath her. Seconds later, she located a secluded lake nearby and flew down towards it. She landed beside the lake and lowered Su Chan onto the ground.

    "Wake up, you foolish child!" Ao Wushuang slammed her palm onto Su Chan's back. Blood spilled from Su Chan's lips.

    Ao Wushuang's heart clenched at the sight of Su Chan coughing and wheezing on the ground. For years, she had loved and nurtured this girl as though she was her own daughter. But now this foolish child was actually planning to end her life because of some man! How ridiculous!

    "You were planning to destroy your meridians from within, weren't you!" Ao Wushuang yelled. "You're out of your mind, child!"

    Su Chan's coughs turned into full-blown wails. "I'd rather die than live a life without Yundong!"

    Tears stung Ao Wushuang's eyes. No! She would not think about him. Ao Wushuang clenched her jaw. "What's so great about that man anyway? No man is worth dying for."

    That's right, Chan'er. I don't want you to go through the same pain I did...

    The sound of Su Chan's crying grew even louder. "You don't understand, Master... It hurts... It hurts!!! It hurts so much!!! It hurts right here!!" Su Chan pointed at her chest, then fell onto the ground into a sobbing heap on the ground.

    Ao Wushuang felt a drop of her own tears slide down her cheek. Oh, Chan'er... Ao Wushuang reached out a hand to touch Su Chan's hair, but then hesitated at the last moment.

    Should I tell her? But won't everything be pointless if I tell her now? Will she be able to resist...? Damn it!

    Ao Wushuang pulled her hand away.

    "He brought so much joy into my life, Master... He made me so happy..." Su Chan's back quivered. "Without him, life is meaningless..."

    Ao Wushuang's resolve crumbled right then and there. She sighed and drew Su Chan into her arms.

    "Oh, Chan'er... I told you a long time ago to stay away from love, but you didn't listen. Haven't I told you before that love is the greatest source of pain in this world?" Ao Wushuang sniffed, then patted Su Chan's head. "Now it's too late. Seems like you're already experiencing the same pain I did back then..."

    "But to me, it's worth it, Master..." Su Chan said firmly. "No matter how painful it is, it's worth it." Su Chan took Ao Wushuang's hands. "Master, I beg you... Please let me return to Yundong. I can't live without him... I can't..."

    Ao Wushuang released a long sigh. I guess I should tell her after all... The whole plan would be even more pointless if this silly girl made another attempt on her own life.

    Ao Wushuang dried Su Chan's tears with her sleeve, then stroke Su Chan's head.

    Ao Wushuang shook her head and sighed. "I wasn't trying to tear you two apart, you idiot. I'm trying to save you both…"


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  • Chapter 156 Bittersweet

    "S- Save us?! What do you mean, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang smiled and patted Chan'er's head. "Do you think I'm that blind? I know true love when I see it, Chan'er. Which is why..." Ao Wushuang sighed and looked at Chan'er, who stared back at her with those huge, watery eyes that were filled with apprehension and hope. Ao Wushuang shook her head. "Which is why you have to stay with me for now."

    Chan'er's face scrunched up. "But why?"

    Ao Wushuang snorted. "I know he failed miserably in his first attempt to pass the Zhuji phase."

    Chan'er jumped slightly. "W- W- What? But how did..."

    Ao Wushuang shook her head. "I was watching you two from the shadows that night." Ao Wushuang pinned Chan'er with a scathing look. "A motel? Seriously?"

    Chan'er pouted. "We had no other choice… It was too risky to remain at our home…"

    "Yes." Ao Wushuang sighed. "You were ambushed. I know about that too."

    "What?" Hurt flashed across Chan'er's face. "You knew and you didn't come to my rescue?"

    "Oh, Chan'er…" Ao Wushuang stroked Chan'er's hair. "I would've rescued you in a heartbeat if I'd known about the attack when it happened." Ao Wushuang sighed. "Unfortunately, I only found out about it much later."

    "Oh." The hurt look vanished from Chan'er's face and was replaced with a look of curiosity. "But how did you find out about the ambush, Master?"

    "I've been keeping an eye on Mount Longhu… Well, more specifically, on Zi Yuan." Ao Wushuang looked at Chan'er. "I know she's been sent to hunt you down."

    "Oh." Chan'er still looked adorably puzzled.

    "Then one day I saw Ruan Hongling appear at Mount Longhu," Ao Wushuang continued. "The girl was crying and whining to Zi Yuan about how your beloved had stolen her red damask from her." Ao Wushuang looked towards Chan'er again. "That's how I found out about the attack. I heard from her own mouth that she had attacked you, and that she lost the damask while fighting your beloved."

    A tiny smile played at Chan'er's lips.

    "Yundong saved me, Master…"

    Ao Wushuang returned Chan'er's smile. "Ah. The Jindan's Heir. Yes, I heard about that too back at Mount Longhu. Ruan Hongling was grumbling to Zi Yuan about some man being the Jindan's Heir." Ao Wushuang chuckled wryly. "I was really surprised at first because I thought the Jindan was still with you. But after that I put two and two together and guessed that you had probably found yourself a lover." Ao Wushuang snorted. "It had to be someone special if you were willing to give up the Renyuan Jindan. So I knew it had to be your lover."

    Chan'er suddenly looked sheepish. "How it actually happened might be a lot different from what you imagined, Master…"

    Ao Wushuang waved her hand. "Anyway. I followed Zi Yuan and her protégé back to the city and eventually found out where you were. I had to lay low and stay in the shadows, so I only watched over you two after the sun was down. Even then, I didn't linger around for too long. No longer than ten minutes each time."

    "Oh."

    "Except for that night when the Jindan's Heir attempted to pass the Zhuji phase, of course. I was in the area during the entire disastrous session." Ao Wushuang gave Chan'er a stern look. "How else do you think you managed to survive all the times you passed out after you tried to bring him back?"

    Chan'er gaped at Ao Wushuang.

    "Oh yes, that's right," Ao Wushuang gave her disciple a withering look. "You nearly died, Chan'er. Multiple times." She snorted. "I have honestly never seen a clumsier attempt at passing the Zhuji phase in my life."

    Chan'er's eyes widened as though she had just remembered something. "But how did you get in, Master? I placed protective spells all over the place that night—"

    Chan'er's mouth clicked shut the moment Ao Wushuang raised a brow at her.

    "I'm your master," Ao Wushuang said. "You think those petty tricks of yours can actually stop me?"

    Chan'er blushed and shook her head meekly.

    Ao Wushuang huffed out in annoyance. "And you two have to pick tonight of all nights to cause trouble too." At Chan'er's confused gaze, Ao Wushuang decided to explain further. "I decided to take a break from watching you two tonight. Left you two alone after you guys left for Shengyuan Hotel. I never really liked that place anyway." Ao Wushuang shook her head. "I wasn't even in the city when I saw the Heavenly Thunder strike down from the sky. But when I did, I knew right away that one of you must be in trouble. So I flew back into the city as quickly as I can." Ao Wushuang glared at Chan'er. "Trust you to give away a talisman of the most powerful spell in existence to a complete amateur. What were you even thinking?"   

    Chan'er puffed out her cheeks and pouted. "S- Sorry Master."

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "Never mind…"

    Maybe it was meant to happen.

    "Master?"

    "Yes?"

    "Why didn't you reveal yourself to me?" Chan'er asked. "We could've talked. I… I missed you…"

    Ao Wushuang smiled wryly. "I have my reasons."

    "Oh."

    "When I first started watching you, I wasn't planning to show myself at all." Ao Wushuang smirked at Chan'er. "But when I saw the Heir's miserable attempt to pass the Zhuji phase, I knew I had to separate the two of you." Ao Wushuang glared at Chan'er. "I just didn't expect it would take a bolt of Heavenly Thunder to prompt me into action." 

    "But… But… Still, you could've stepped in and helped Yundong pass the Zhuji phase..."

    Amused, Ao Wushuang pinched Chan'er's cheek. "Nonsense. Okay, well, it is technically possible for me to help him pass the Zhuji phase, but then it would be pointless."

    "Huh?" Chan'er frowned. "Why would it be pointless?"

    Ao Wushuang released Chan'er's cheek. "His Vital Orb wouldn't be pure if he receives external help during the process of its formation. In fact, no Vital Orb obtained by artificial means can be pure." Ao Wushuang paused to look at Chan'er. "In Cultivation jargon, any Vital Orb that isn't pure is known as a pseudo Vital Orb."

    Chan'er sat up in attention. "You never told me this before, Master."

    Ao Wushuang smiled. "That's because there wasn't a need to. Why would I want my disciple to end up with a pseudo Vital Orb?"

    Chan'er had a thoughtful look on her face. "Are they that terrible though?"

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "I suppose having a pseudo Vital Orb is better than having no Vital Orb at all. But there's a fundamental flaw in pseudo Vital Orbs." Ao Wushuang gave Chan'er a stern look. "They lack structural integrity and can be destroyed with ease. A master Cultivator have ways to destroy pseudo Vital Orbs without even breaking a sweat. And I have a feeling that the Jindan's Heir will be crossing paths with a lot of master Cultivators in the future."

    Chan'er stared down at her lap. "Oh."

    "Which is why it is absolutely crucial for him to establish a solid foundation in the art of Cultivation," Ao Wushuang said earnestly. "His Vital Orb must be strong. Otherwise his talents—and the Jindan, of course—would be wasted on him."

    "Um… Is that what you meant when you said you were trying to save us both, Master?"

    "You think?" Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes in exasperation. "He'll never pass the Zhuji phase with you hanging around him every minute of the day. Not in a million years!"

    Chan'er's head shot up. "What?"

    "Do you know the real reason he failed his first attempt?" Ao Wushuang snorted, then gave Chan'er a pointed look. "Lust, Chan'er, lust. His lust for you is what led him to failure."

    At Chan'er's blank stare, Ao Wushuang explained further, "Passing the Zhuji phase requires the Cultivator to sustain the state of Ishvara until their Vital Orb fully forms. But sustaining Ishvara is no easy feat, especially if done over a long period of time. Your personal god would spent the whole time tempting you with all kinds of worldly desires." Ao Wushuang paused and pinned Chan'er with a hard stare. "Your presence will just give his personal god extra ammunition to be used against him!"

    Chan'er visibly deflated. "So it's all my fault..." she said sadly. "It's my fault that he failed..."

    "Yes," Ao Wushuang said. A second later, she added, "Well, partly, anyway."

    Chan'er fiddled with an invisible piece of lint on her skirt.

    A moment later, Ao Wushuang sighed. "The man desires you, Chan'er. And that's why I want you to stay with me for now. At least until he passes the Zhuji phase."

    Suddenly, Chan'er's head shot up. "Wait! B- But what about the Heavenly Thunder? Wouldn't he receive divine punishment if he passes the Zhuji phase?"

    "Yes, but I'll deal with that when the time comes," Ao Wushuang said.

    A soft weight bumped against Ao Wushuang's chest. Before she knew it, Chan'er's arms were wrapped around her neck. "Yayyyyy!!! Yayyyy!!! I knew it, Master! I knew you're the best person in the world!"

    Ao Wushuang grinned and stroked Chan'er's spine. "One moment you wanted to die for your lover, and then the next, you're claiming that I'm the best person in the world?"

    Chan'er rubbed her face against her chest. "Master! Stop making fun of Chan'er already!"

    Affection bloomed inside Ao Wushuang's chest. However, Chan'er ended their hug before Ao Wushuang could say another word.

    "Master! Master! There's something I have to tell you!"

    Ao Wushuang quirked a brow. "What is it?"

    Chan'er beamed. "Yundong is a super genius!"

    Ao Wushuang nodded. "I don't deny that he has a lot of potential. I realized that already when I found out that he managed to grab Ruan Hongling's damask."

    "No, no, no." Chan'er shook her head adorably. "He visualized nine lotus thrones in a row during Guanxiang!"

    Ao Wushuang thought her brows were about to shoot off her forehead when she heard that. "What did you say? Nine lotus thrones??"

    Chan'er bobbed her head up and down. "Mmm! It's true, Master! It's true!"

    Ao Wushuang felt her lips moving on her own. "That's... impressive..."

    Impressive? More like insane.

    Chan'er cheered. "I know right!"

    Nine lotus thrones in a row... Heavens above.

    Seconds later, Ao Wushuang was brought out of her thoughts by a series of sharp, insistent tugs on her arm.

    Chan'er was staring back at her expectantly. "Master, Master! Will you teach Yundong? Please?" Chan'er's eyes sparkled. "Yundong is very smart! He'll pick up whatever you teach him quickly! Please, teach him, Master!"

    Ao Wushuang shook her head wryly. "While I agree that someone has to teach him, I have to decline."

    Chan'er's face fell. "What? Why?"

    "Because I'm not qualified to teach him."

    "But you know so many powerful spells!"

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "I know my own abilities, Chan'er. It's true that I have a huge arsenal of spells at my disposal, and that I can perform spells from all five elements. Even so, I'm more of a Jack of all trades, but master of none, you know? I lack specialization in my knowledge. I think..." Ao Wushuang hesitated for a moment. "I think his talent would be wasted if I teach him."

    Chan'er gazed at Ao Wushuang with piteous eyes. "But who else is qualified to teach him if not you, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang smiled. "Well, you've met her already."

    Chan'er frowned. "Who?"

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "The Cultivator who is most qualified to teach the Jindan's Heir. You've met her already..."

    Ao Wushuang could hear the gears turning in Chan'er's head. Seconds later, Chan'er shouted. "Y- You mean..."

    "Yes, that's her." Ao Wushuang chuckled, then sighed. She stared out into the darkness of the lake. "Actually, that person did tell me about this ten years ago..."

    "I don't understand, Master. Who told you what?"

    Just like that, the familiar tug returned to Ao Wushuang's chest. Enough! Why couldn't she stop thinking about him? Even after all these years?

    Ao Wushuang shook her head, disgusted with herself. "Forget it, Chan'er. Let's not dwell in the past. Anyway, you don't have to worry about your lover. He has his own path to follow. But rest assured that as long as he managed to pass the Zhuji phase and survive the divine punishment, the amount of potential he has will be insurmountable. He will be a great Cultivator. Far greater than you and I will ever be…" Ao Wushuang sighed. "And when the time comes..." Ao Wushuang trailed off.

    "What is it, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang smiled at Chan'er. "My mind will be at ease when I hand you over to him in the future."

    A panicked look spread across Chan'er's face. "Master, are you abandoning me? You don't want Chan'er anymore?!"

    Ao Wushuang burst into laughter. "Gosh! Minutes ago you hated me for separating you two, and now you're begging me not to abandon you? You really are something else, Chan'er."

    Chan'er lowered her head quickly, but not before Ao Wushuang caught the shy look on her face. After a while, Chan'er peeked up at her from below her lashes. "Umm... Master...?"

    Ao Wushuang smiled. "Yes, Chan'er?"

    "C- Can I... Can I go say goodbye to Yundong properly...?"

    Ao Wushuang regarded Chan'er for a moment, then released a long sigh. Young love…

    "Fine. Go. But don't take too long."

    Surprise flitted across Chan'er's face. "Really?"

    "Yes. Besides..." Ao Wushuang looked out into the lake again. "I don't want him to end up hating me. Otherwise... in the future..."

    "Future? What's going to happen in the future, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang shook her head. "It's nothing. Just go. And make sure you keep it short."

    "Yayy!" Chan'er vanished in a flash of green light.

    Ao Wushuang's gaze drifted to the lake once more. Darkness suffused the lake. Tiny ripples swept across the lake's surface, reminding her of the halcyon days she'd spent with…

    But he's gone. He's no longer here.  

    Green light flashed beside her. Ao Wushuang turned and saw Chan'er staring back at her with pleading eyes.

    Ao Wushuang gave her a strange look. "I know I told you to be quick... But I didn't mean this quick."

    A blush crept up Chan'er's neck, ending at the tip of her ears. "Master..."

    God, this girl is so transparent... Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. Clearly she wants something from me…

    It was the same look Chan'er had back in the mountains when she'd begged Ao Wushuang to give her extra play time after her lessons.

    "What do you want?"

    Chan'er raised her gaze. "Hehehe... Master… Remember that magical weapon you promised to give me last time?"

    It took merely a few seconds for Ao Wushuang to connect the dots.

    "You..." Ao Wushuang gasped.

    Well. She did not see this coming.

    Seconds later, Ao Wushuang laughed. "Boy... You really have it bad for him, Chan'er... You want to give the Fox Zen School's treasure over to him?"

    Chan'er blushed heavily and fiddled with her sleeves. "Is that... Is that not okay?"

    Ao Wushuang rubbed her temples a few times, then sighed. "Fine… Give it to him then. No one back at the Fox Zen School can wield it anyway. With his strength and talents, he might actually be able to use it to its fullest potential."

    "Yayyyy!!!!" Chan'er jumped around on the grass.

    Ao Wushuang shook her head in amusement. "Tsk! Settle down..." She did a hand sign, after which a large, colorful silk pouch materialized in front of Chan'er. "It's in there."

    Chan'er stopped jumping and took the pouch gratefully.

    Ao Wushuang gave her a stern look. "Remember to be quick. And avoid too much physical intimacy, you hear? Otherwise you'll just affect his training."

    Chan'er nodded. "Mmm!"

    ***

    Li Yundong had no idea how long he'd been kneeling on the ground. Hell, he wondered if he was even breathing.

    No. No he wasn't breathing. He was drowning. Drowning in a sea of emptiness, dejection, and self-pity. Weak. He was f*cking weak.

    There was a green flash somewhere nearby.

    "Hey!!!" Someone shouted. He recognized that voice. But sadly, it was only Ruan Hongling. It wasn't the voice he yearned to hear again, to hear forever and ever.

    Footsteps sounded behind him. A familiar scent assaulted his nostrils. Great, now I'm imagining things, he thought as he slowly turned around.

    It was a magical moment when he saw Su Chan walking up to him. It was like he could finally breathe properly again.

    "P- Princess?" Try as he might, Li Yundong couldn't prevent his voice from trembling. "Y- You're back..."

    Su Chan broke off into a sprint and then threw herself into his arms. By the time they both tumbled to the ground, Su Chan had turned into a crying mess again. "Beloved..." Su Chan wailed. "I missed you! I missed you so much!"

    Li Yundong shook his head in a fruitless attempt to clear the fog in his head. "B- But how did you come back?"

    Su Chan climbed off his body and kneeled beside him. "Master let me come back!" she said, beaming through her tears.

    Joy and relief coursed through Li Yundong. "She's no longer taking you away?" Then, Li Yundong steeled his heart. "No! You need to stay away from me! It's too dangerous to be around me! You need to—"

    Su Chan clamped her hand over his mouth and shook her head. For the next fifteen minutes or so, Li Yundong listened to Su Chan as she recounted everything her master had told her: his lust for Su Chan being the cause of his failing to pass the Zhuji phase; Ao Wushuang's plan to temporarily separate them until he passed the Zhuji phase; pseudo Vital Orbs (what the heck?); Zi Yuan being his new teacher (God damn it, seriously?).

    Su Chan even told him that Ao Wushuang would figure out a way to help him survive the Heavenly Thunder. Which didn't sound all that reassuring, but it was still better than nothing.

    "Yundong..." Su Chan took his hands. "Don't worry about anything else when I'm not around, okay? Just focus on passing the Zhuji phase and surviving the Heavenly Thunder. I'll come look for you when everything's over!"

    Li Yundong smiled and nodded. He still didn't know how to accomplish the second part, but he figured it must involve making himself stronger. The stronger he became, the more likely it was for him to survive the Heavenly Thunder. There was no arguing with that logic; it just made sense.

    Li Yundong exhaled lengthily. "She's right, you know?"

    Su Chan frowned. "What?"

    Li Yundong shook his head. "Your master. She's right in everything she said about me. I'm still just a weakling. I can't even protect myself let alone protect you."

    "But you'll get stronger!" Su Chan declared confidently. "You might be weak now, but one day you'll become the greatest Cultivator to ever live! Master thinks so too! And… And I have faith in you!" Su Chan patted her chest. "I believe in you here!"

    Tears sprang to Li Yundong's eyes, but he held them back. "Mmm. I... I'll work hard!"

    "Also... I want you to have this, Yundong..."

    Su Chan performed a strange hand sign.

    Suddenly, a colorful bag appeared out of thin air. The bag was large and about as tall as him.

    "What's that?" Li Yundong asked.

    Instead of answering, Su Chan reached into a pouch and pulled out a glowing object.

    Li Yundong raised his hands to cover his eyes. When the glow subsided, Li Yundong lowered his hands and saw a black tessen—a war fan—about as tall as a human being.

    Wait a minute…

    He had seen this tessen before. It was the same fan that his personal god had wielded in one of its six hands!

    Su Chan lugged the tessen towards him.

    When Li Yundong took it from her, Su Chan patted its surface a few times. "This is for you, Yundong. You can use it to defend yourself in the future."

    Li Yundong picked it up and swung it gently above his head before putting it back down. "It's quite heavy," he remarked.

    "This is the magical weapon left to us by Grandmaster Pan Shi, the founder of the Fox Zen School. It's called The Fan of Seven Treasures." A pensive look formed on Su Chan's face. "Grandmaster Pan Shi has defeated a lot of powerful foes with it!"

    "B- But..." Li Yundong shook his head. "It isn't right for me to take this, princess. This fan belongs to your school. You can't just give it to me, a complete outsider—"

    Li Yundong was silenced by Su Chan's raised finger. "The truth is that nobody in the Fox Zen School has enough strength to wield it to its full potential. It would be a total waste if we keep it locked away in the vaults... Please have it, Yundong."

    "But..."

    "Please? For me?"

    Li Yundong stared at the tessen for a moment. "Okay then... I'll keep it safe for now until we can return it to your school."

    Su Chan seemed satisfied with his answer as she beamed happily at him. "Yay! Hey, have you forgotten something, Yundong? What's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine! Remember?"

    Li Yundong gave her a sly look. "What's yours is mine, huh? You sure about that?"

    A quizzical look formed on Su Chan's face. Seconds later, she gasped and started smacking his arm. "Meanie, meanie, meanie! Not the Hello Keedee!" Su Chan stomped her foot. "T- The money is m- mine! I don't care! You're not allowed to touch Hello Keedee!"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Fine, fine, I'll leave the piggy bank alone, happy?" Then, he reached over and ruffled her hair. So soft and smooth... It felt really nice to touch her hair. However, his smile faded when a sad thought hit him. Guess I won't be doing that for a while, huh?

    Su Chan's shoulders shook. "I don't want to leave... Yundong... I don't wanna leave..."

    Just like that, the sting returned to Li Yundong's eyes again. "It's alright, princess. Maybe it'll only take a few days?" he said, keeping his tone light.

    Su Chan wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "Remember to think of me when I'm not around, okay?"

    Li Yundong wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her forward until she was flushed against him. Then, he lowered his head and captured her lips with his own.

    After what felt like forever, Li Yundong pulled back, and their gazes locked.

    "Of course I'll think of you, silly," Li Yundong said. "How is it possible for me to not think of you when you're already inside here?"

    With a teary smile, Li Yundong raise his hand and tapped the left side of his chest, where his heart was.

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  • Chapter 157 The Journey is Afoot

    Su Chan disappeared in a flash of green light, marking the end of their brief reunion. Despite the circumstances, Li Yundong's heart felt lighter after the talk they had. Su Chan's words of reassurance along with all the promises they made to each other had breathed a new life into Li Yundong, filling the void left behind by Su Chan's absence. Now he had something to look forward to. He had a goal—to become stronger.

    After staring off into space for God knows how long, Li Yundong finally turned away from the field, where the remnants of his wrath lay scattered. He expected to feel at least a little bit of remorse over He Shao's death, but strangely, the feelings of guilt never came. In fact, the whole experience was rather freeing. At least he could now rest assured that Deng Yu and Deng Jiao didn't die for nothing; their deaths had triggered a chain of events that eventually rid the world of one evil son of a bitch.

    Rest in peace, my friends...

    Li Yundong made his way back towards the road. Zhou Qin's Audi A6 was parked beside the guard rail, and Zhou Qin herself was leaning against her car, staring at him from the top of the field with a guarded expression.

    Li Yundong had no doubt that Zhou Qin had witnessed the whole thunder-summoning shebang from start to finish. What's interesting was that she didn't seem shocked at all. It was like: hey, you just summoned a bolt of lightning from the sky and then barbequed a man alive with it; okay, cool, now let's just chill and act like nothing happened; by the way, can we go now? Coz I'm starving.

    Either Zhou Qin had nerves of steel, or she had the best poker face in the history of poker faces.

    Hell, it was probably both.

    Li Yundong leaped over the guard rail and landed in front of Zhou Qin.

    They stared at each other for a moment. Zhou Qin didn't smile at him like she used to when they see each other.

    "I'm sorry to drag you into this, Zhou Qin," he said.

    Zhou Qin regarded him for a few more seconds, then released a soft sigh. "So what are you gonna do next?"

    Good question. What was he going to do? "Becoming stronger" was far too vague to help him come up with an immediate action plan.

    "I know I should turn myself in," Li Yundong said, shaking his head. "I killed a man after all." Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a look. "But I'm not going to do that because Su Chan is still waiting for me."

    Zhou Qin laughed as though she'd just been told a funny joke. "Trust me, it's pointless to turn yourself in." Zhou Qin stopped laughing. "The prosecutors won't have enough physical evidence to build a case against you."

    Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin. "Seriously? I mean… hello? I just chased after the guy's car, all the while yelling death threats at him." Li Yundong sighed. "Shit… There're probably traffic cams everywhere. I'm pretty sure at least a few of them caught the chase."

    Zhou Qin smiled. "Even so, the case would crumble if that's the only evidence they have against you." Zhou Qin's smile faltered and was replaced by a somber expression. "That is why I tried to stop you earlier. If you killed him with your bare hands, you'd probably be locked up for the rest of your life."

    Li Yundong pondered Zhou Qin's words for a moment. "Yeah. He Shao's family is powerful and influential."

    Zhou Qin nodded. "Even if you leave the country and hide overseas, they still have the means to hunt you down and put you on murder trial."

    "Well... I did beat him up. But that was only after we got here." Li Yundong gestured towards the field below them.

    Also, beating him up was definitely an understatement. Li Yundong had pretty much broken that scumbag's body before killing him with the lightning. He had made He Shao's final moments a living hell before sending him straight to hell where he belonged.

    He Shao deserved hell for all the atrocious things he'd done.

    "Oh, but this is where everything gets interesting." There was a twinkle in Zhou Qin's eyes. "You did beat him up, that's true. But, there is no evidence to prove that you did."

    Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin. Is she just trying to make me feel better?

    As though sensing his skepticism, Zhou Qin raised her index finger. "Just hear me out for a second. One, there are no surveillance cameras around this area, which means there are no footages that the prosecutors can use to prove that you've physically assaulted He Shao. And two..." Zhou Qin's expression changed from its usual aloofness to something different. She almost seemed... intrigued. "He Shao's body was destroyed, so no autopsy can be done. And without a full autopsy report, there's no way to prove that he was assaulted before the..." Zhou Qin gestured at the sky. "The... you know."

    Li Yundong chuckled wryly. "Sorry you had to see all that."

    Zhou Qin shook her head as though she was trying to clear some kind of mental fog.

    "How on earth did you pull that off?"

    "It's..." Li Yundong raised his hands, then let them drop after a few seconds. "Well, how did I dodge seven bullets in a row? I mean, I can try to explain them, but it'll probably still sound like nonsense to you." Li Yundong huffed out a breath. "Regardless, I don't think they're going to let me off the hook that easily. I'm still linked to He Shao's death whether I like it or not. And I'm sure those sleazy lawyers would find a way to twist everything around to make me look guilty."

    Not that he wasn't guilty.

    Zhou Qin smirked. "Not when you have this." Zhou Qin pulled out her phone and showed him the screen.

    The screen showed He Shao lying on the ground, staring fearfully up the sky. Seconds later, the screen flashed in white and blue as a huge bolt of lightning engulfed He Shao's body. The video ended seconds after the lightning disappeared.

    "I'm going to have to confiscate that..." Zi Yuan's cold voice sounded from somewhere. Li Yundong looked away from the phone and saw Zi Yuan standing on the other side of the car, glaring at Zhou Qin. "I've made it clear that I don't want any of this on record."

    Zhou Qin put her phone away and turned around to face Zi Yuan. "This footage can be used to Li Yundong's advantage." Zhou Qin squared her shoulders. "If Li Yundong is forced to go to trial, this footage is our best bet to get the judge to absolve him of any foul play." Zhou Qin turned to Li Yundong again. "Don't worry, I'll make sure that things don't come to that."

    Zi Yuan didn't seem fully convinced. "And what if people start questioning how anyone can summon lightning from the sky?"

    Zhou Qin smirked. "Who says the lightning was summoned by anyone at all?" Zhou Qin shrugged. "For all we know, the Heavens have decided to punish He Shao for all his evil deeds by striking him with a bolt of lightning."

    Zi Yuan frowned. "But—"

    "I didn't appear in the video," Li Yundong added. "There's no proof that I summoned the lightning."

    "Exactly," Zhou Qin said.

    Zi Yuan scowled. "That's still not good enough. A Cultivator who sees the footage would recognize the Heavenly Thunder immediately and know that a spell is involved. I can't have that."

    Zhou Qin sighed. "Like I said, I'll make sure that things don't come to a point where we have to reveal the footage inside a courtroom."

    The staring match between Zi Yuan and Zhou Qin lasted for a long while before Zi Yuan ended it. "Hongling!"

    Ruan Hongling stepped up from behind Zi Yuan. "Yes, Elder Sister?"

    "Status report."

    "We're clear," Ruan Hongling said. "No eye-witnesses spotted when I scouted the area. But I did see police vehicles headed this way."

    Zhou Qin nodded as though she'd been expecting it. "I told them to seal off the area for half an hour before coming in."

    "You've been extremely helpful," Zi Yuan said, looking at Zhou Qin. "Thank you."

    "It's no big deal," said Zhou Qin.

    The conversation suddenly died down. Seconds later, Li Yundong realized that everyone was staring at him. He sighed. "What?"

    "You should come with me," Zi Yuan said. "It's best to remove you from the scene before the police arrive. A Cultivator should avoid getting on the wrong side of the law. Any involvement with lawsuits and court cases will not be tolerated! That is a cardinal rule that every Cultivator should follow."

    Great. More rules. So much fun.

    There was a pause. Zi Yuan was no longer looking at him but at Zhou Qin instead. "And I trust you'll find a way to… mitigate things?" Zi Yuan asked.

    Mitigate. Li Yundong was pretty sure she meant cover up.  

    Zhou Qin smirked. "Consider it done."

    Li Yundong chuckled. "That's Zhou Qin for you. Confident as always."

    Zi Yuan ignored his remark. "Now let's get out of here." Zi Yuan held out her right arm. "Put your hand on my wrist."

    Wariness crept in. Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan hesitantly.

    "Hurry up!" Zi Yuan snapped. "We don't have all day."

    Why was Zi Yuan even helping him now? Just days ago, the Zhengyi School wanted him dead! Also, why did Ao Wushuang say that Zi Yuan would be his teacher starting from now? What the heck was going on?

    Regardless, he had to admit that staying here wasn't an option. Besides, Su Chan seemed pretty okay with him being under Zi Yuan's tutelage. And since he trusted Su Chan with his life, he decided to roll with it.

    Li Yundong took a deep breath and placed his right hand on Zi Yuan's wrist.

    Zi Yuan turned her head to look at Zhou Qin. "Do you want to come with us?"

    Zhou Qin shook her head. "I'll stay and handle the cops."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Just remember that discretion is key."

    Zhou Qin smiled. "I know."

    Zi Yuan returned Zhou Qin's smile, and it struck Li Yundong right then how alike Zi Yuan and Zhou Qin were: calm; composed; elegant; dignified; badass chicks who exuded confidence and poise in spades.

    If Zhou Qin was the Ice Queen of the mortal world, then Zi Yuan was probably the Ice Queen of the Cultivation world. Those two were two sides of the same coin.

    "Zhou Qin," Li Yundong said. "Thank you for everything you've done for me."

    Zhou Qin smiled wanly. "You're acting like this is goodbye." She shrugged. "It's not."

    Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a smile, then nodded at Zi Yuan.

    "Hongling. Let's go," Zi Yuan said.

    "Where to?" Ruan Hongling asked.

    Li Yundong was surprised by Zi Yuan's answer.

    "New Hongsheng District."

    ***

    A wave of sadness washed over Li Yundong when he opened the door to his apartment. As expected, the apartment felt totally empty without Su Chan. Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling had dropped him off in front of his block earlier. Before they parted ways, Ruan Hongling had passed him the tessen Su Chan had given him. He was honestly surprised that Ruan Hongling hadn't at least tried to trade the tessen for the damask. Maybe she took pity on him. Or maybe she wasn't as terrible as he originally thought.

    Li Yundong dragged the tessen through the doorway and set it down beside the couch. Darkness permeated the apartment. Somehow, Li Yundong couldn't even summon the strength to switch on the lights. Truth be told, he'd rather not. Seeing everything inside the apartment—the couch, the TV, those cute Hello Kitty slippers—would just remind him of Su Chan's absence.

    He walked past the living room and opened the sliding door. He stepped onto the balcony and then walked towards the railing. Tiannan City blinked back at him. When a light breeze tickled his face, Li Yundong decided to stop moping around and start doing something useful. He pushed away from the railing and went back into the apartment, leaving the sliding door open.

    After that, he went around the apartment to open the windows and sliding doors, deliberately leaving Su Chan's room until last. Finally, he padded back into the living room and got into a meditative posture.

    Seconds after he closed his eyes, he heard a voice.

    "What do you think you're doing?"

    He opened his eyes and saw Ruan Hongling perched on the balcony's railing with one leg crossed over the other.

    Li Yundong shut his eyes again.

    "If this is about the damask, then you can have it back." He sighed. "It's there on the coffee table. Take it and leave me alone."

    "Are you trying to pass the Zhuji phase? Now?" Ruan Hongling said in a tone of disbelief. "Are you nuts?"

    Groaning inwardly, Li Yundong opened his eyes. "Is that a problem?"

    Ruan Hongling stared at him like he had suddenly grown ten heads. "Well, duh." Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "You'll totally fail if you attempt it in your current state."

    Annoyance flared inside Li Yundong. "Why do you care anyway? I thought you'd be happy to see me fail." Li Yundong snorted. "Now please leave and stop bothering me."

    "You ungrateful bastard..." Ruan Hongling growled. "I'm warning you out of the kindness of my heart!"

    "Kindness?" Li Yundong snarled. "Have you forgotten what you did to Su Chan? You nearly killed her!"

    Ruan Hongling's feet landed on the balcony's floor. "You—"

    A green flash lit up the balcony. The next thing he knew, Zi Yuan was there with one hand on Ruan Hongling's shoulder. "What is the matter with you two? Geez." Zi Yuan shook her head. "Grow up."

    Li Yundong shot Ruan Hongling an apologetic glance, then sighed. "Look, I apologize for my behavior. But now really isn't a good time, okay?"

    Zi Yuan stepped into the apartment without waiting for an invitation. Behind her, Ruan Hongling followed with a dark scowl.

    Li Yundong got up from the floor and gestured at the couch. "Um... Please, take a seat." He glanced towards the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink... or...?"

    "No, thank you," Zi Yuan said, taking a seat on the couch.

    Li Yundong turned to Ruan Hongling next. "What about you? Drinks? Ice-cream?"

    The thought of ice-creams brought a stab of pain in Li Yundong's heart. Su Chan loved ice-creams. F*ck. Was there anything in the apartment that didn't remind him of his little chipmunk?

    Li Yundong kept staring at Ruan Hongling, waiting for her answer. Ruan Hongling's scowl deepened.

    Guess that's a no, then.

    "I know this is a difficult time for you," Zi Yuan said gently. "You want to pass the Zhuji phase quickly and then survive the Heavenly Thunder so that you can reunite with Su Chan. I get that."

    Li Yundong sighed and lowered himself to the floor. "But?"

    "But rushing things isn't the right way," Zi Yuan said. "In fact, it'll only make things worse."

    Li Yundong stared down at his empty hands. He kept quiet. He didn't know what else to say.

    "Hongling was right to say that you'll fail," Zi Yuan continued. "You aren't in the right state of mind to pass the Zhuji phase. Right now you're still struggling with feelings of uncertainty, anger, sadness, and frustration. All these emotions can be used against you when you try to sustain Ishvara. Do you understand?"

    Li Yundong sighed. "Yeah..."

    "In any endeavor in Cultivation, peace of mind is crucial for success," Zi Yuan said, pausing slightly. "There is a concept in Buddhism called the purification of the six senses. Have you ever heard of that?"

    Li Yundong shook his head.

    "Well, in simple terms, it means being in a state of mind where you are free from worldly troubles. It is with this state of mind that you'll be most likely to pass the Zhuji phase."

    Li Yundong took a deep breath. "So you're saying that I just have to sort out my mind before I try again?"

    Zi Yuan shook her head. "I wouldn't even be here if it were that simple."

    Li Yundong frowned. "Okay. What else do I have to do?"

    "Your Qi reserve is vast." Zi Yuan leaned back in the couch and crossed her legs. "The amount of Qi you have is..." She shared a look with Ruan Hongling. "...phenomenal. Plus, the Jindan has made your Qi much more powerful. Basically, you now possess one of the most powerful types of Qi in the world, and you have it in spades." She looked into Li Yundong's eyes. "I'm starting to see why you are the Jindan's Heir."

    "Why?"

    "The Jindan's effects depend largely on its bearer. Give it to a weakling, and the effects would be mediocre. With your vast Qi reserve, you can bring out the Jindan's full potential. However..." Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look. "You aren't in the optimal state to pass the Zhuji phase. Right now, you have one major problem."

    Li Yundong raised a brow. "Other than my state of mind?"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Your Dantians lacks structural integrity. We need to condition your Dantians. Otherwise your Vital Orb would be weak even if you managed to pass the Zhuji phase."

    My Dantians? Li Yundong shook his head. "Sorry. But I don't follow."

    Zi Yuan rose from the couch and said, "Come with me."

    Puzzled, Li Yundong stood up and followed Zi Yuan to the balcony. On the balcony, Zi Yuan did a few hand signs and muttered a brief incantation. Zi Yuan maintained the hand sign until—

    Holy f*cking shit! Li Yundong ducked when a large object flew across the railing. There was a soft thud. When Li Yundong took a closer look at the object, he was once again taken by surprise. "Hey... Isn't that—" He quickly moved his Qi to the Shenting and glanced out the railing. He zoomed and zoomed until he located the gazebo near New Hongsheng District's gates. A few marble tables had been set up inside the gazebo, but one of them was missing a table top.

    Li Yundong zoomed out and glared at Zi Yuan. "Great. Now I have to worry about vandalism charges," he grumbled. "So much for not getting on the wrong side of the law."

    A ghost of a smile flitted across on Zi Yuan's lips.

    "Never mind that," she said. "Now. I want you to punch this piece of marble."

    Li Yundong eyed the slab carefully, then nodded. "Sure."

    It was just a block of marble. How hard could it be?


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  • Chapter 158 Square One

    "So I just punch it here?" Li Yundong tapped the smooth surface of the marble block.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Yes."

    Okay then… Li Yundong raised his fist and—

    "On second thought, no."

    Li Yundong lowered his fist and shot Zi Yuan a questioning glance.

    Zi Yuan waved her hand at him. "Take three steps backwards," she said. "And use your Qi."

    Li Yundong frowned and looked towards the marble block again. But it's just a marble block… He could definitely crack it without getting his Qi involved.

    "Don't worry," Zi Yuan said. "At your current level of Qi control? I doubt you'll even be able to cause a crack."

    Li Yundong whipped his head around so quickly that he nearly cricked his neck. He didn't like Zi Yuan's disparaging tone any more than he liked the smug look on her face.

    I'll show you...

    Li Yundong gritted his teeth and backed away three steps. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and lowered his stance. When he felt the familiar ball of heat at his lower Dantian, he moved his Qi to his right palm, and then curled his fingers to form a fist.

    "Hyahh!"

    The marble block trembled as marble chips scattered across the floor. Li Yundong yanked his fist out of the hole he'd just created on the marble surface.

    "How about that?" Li Yundong asked, turning around to face the two women. Seconds later, he decided that he liked Ruan Hongling's reaction better. The girl was practically gaping as she inspected the damage he'd done on the marble slab. Not a crack my ass. He hadn't even used the Qi of his five Zangs yet.

    Zi Yuan, on the other hand, looked amused, like she was studying a child's drawing while trying to come up with something nice to say.

    "Hongling," Zi Yuan said after a while. "Flip it over."

    Ruan Hongling rose to her feet and flipped the thick marble over and set it back down.

    Zi Yuan gave Li Yundong a pointed look, then took a step forward. "Now watch."

    Zi Yuan raised her right palm and lightly tapped the marble block's smooth surface. There was a muffled thud, after which the marble block trembled and—

    "Holy shit…" Li Yundong whispered, stepping towards the marble block to take a closer look.

    Zi Yuan's palm had sunk right into the block's surface without even cracking it, almost like she was pressing down on a fluffy pillow. And when Zi Yuan pulled out her palm, there was perfect palm print right at the center of the block. Li Yundong lifted the block and inspected the palm print. Indeed, there wasn't a single crack surrounding the palm print. And when he ran a finger through the indentation of the palm print, it felt smooth, as though the palm print was carved out.

    Li Yundong set the marble block back down. "How on earth did you do that?"

    Zi Yuan smiled. "Come. Let's talk inside." She turned and walked back into the apartment.

    Li Yundong picked up the marble block and studied the palm print again. He couldn't deny it. This was some pretty amazing shit.

     "Yeah. Keep staring at it. Maybe you'll be able to improve your skills if you stare at it for twenty years."

    Li Yundong glared at Ruan Hongling, who was standing in front of the sliding door, smirking at him. The girl looked way too smug for his liking. Li Yundong dropped the marble block and stormed past Ruan Hongling into the living room.

    When he entered, Zi Yuan was already sitting on the couch, waiting for him.

    Li Yundong took a seat on the floor. "How?" Li Yundong pointed towards the balcony. "How did you do it?"

    Ruan Hongling had stepped into the apartment as well and was now closing the sliding door.

    "Qi is in a lot of ways similar to water," Zi Yuan said, looking at Li Yundong. "Water is one of the most powerful forces of nature. I'm sure you know what water is capable of."

    Images of strong waves and tsunamis came to mind.

    "Water is a versatile substance, you see," Zi Yuan said. "It can slip through cracks. It can take any form or any shape. It can nourish and heal. But, it can also be highly destructive. Even so, there are two ways in which water can be destructive, as illustrated by what you and I both did to the marble block just now."

    Zi Yuan paused, probably to make sure that she had Li Yundong's full attention. Li Yundong sat up straighter and looked into her eyes.

    "The key difference lies in how our Qis behaved when we struck the marble block," Zi Yuan continued. "Yours is like a tidal wave, smashing through things and causing mass destruction. Mine, on the other hand, is like a concentrated but powerful jet capable of causing localized damage." Zi Yuan raised a brow. "But of course, the destructive nature of your Qi is partly due to the Jindan's effect. Like I said earlier, the Jindan has enhanced the strength of your Qi to tremendous levels. In a way, it also made the destructive nature of your Qi more pronounced. However..." Zi Yuan paused again. "With the right training, you can alter the behavior of your Qi easily."

    Li Yundong couldn't shake the feeling that he was still missing an important piece of the puzzle. He frowned, "There has to be some way to explain..." He gestured with his hands. "I mean some kind of... of... concept behind how Qi behaves."

    Zi Yuan chuckled. "Very inquisitive. I like that."

    "You mentioned something about the strength of Qi," Li Yundong said, stroking his chin. "I suppose that's a property of Qi, but I doubt that's the answer I'm looking for."

    "Your Qi's strength does play a role, yes," Zi Yuan said. "But you're right, its role is rather minor in this case. The key here is lies in the concentration of your Qi."

    Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan. "Concentration as in..."

    "As in the amount of Qi occupying per unit volume of space inside your meridians."

    "Hmm... Interesting."

    "Think back to the water analogy. Like I said, your Qi behaves like a tidal wave. And I'm sure you know what a tidal wave does. It crashes and sweeps away anything in its path. Very destructive. But, don't forget that it also occupies a lot of space."

    Understanding washed over Li Yundong. "But if I can take the same amount of water and change its form... Like a steady stream of water... A beam..."

    "Exactly. The behavior of your Qi—whether it crashes or flows—will influence the overall effect it produces." Zi Yuan smirked. "Before you punch the marble block just now. I deliberately provoked you." Her smirk grew wider. "I got a rise out of you with that remark about you being unable to smash the block. And it worked. Your Qi responded to the state of your emotions by being turbulent instead of concentrated."

    Li Yundong snorted. "Sneaky, I'll give you that."

    Ruan Hongling sniggered. "Heh! So gullible!"

    Li Yundong opened his mouth to argue, but Zi Yuan beat him to it.

    "Oh? Is the pot calling the kettle black now?" Zi Yuan said with a raised brow.

    Ruan Hongling blushed to the tip of her ears and quickly looked away.

    Li Yundong smirked, then looked towards Zi Yuan again. "Why is the concentration of Qi so important? I mean why bother if I can already do a huge amount of damage to my opponent with my Qi."

    "For two reasons," Zi Yuan said. "One. Versatility."

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment, then sighed. "Well, I guess that makes sense in the grand scheme of things."

    "It isn't hard to see that being versatile is advantageous no matter what situation you're in. After all, why would it be bad if you're able to do more things with your Qi? Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not asking you to change your style." Zi Yuan looked at him pointedly. "Ultimately, you can use your Qi however you want. What I'm asking is for you to learn other ways to use your Qi. That way, you can control the behavior of your Qi and adapt to any situation. If the situation calls for mass destruction, then by all means, make your Qi as turbulent and destructive as possible. But in a situation where finesse—like during a covert operation, for example—is required, knowing how to alter the behavior of your Qi will certainly help you."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Fair enough."

    "And now the second reason," Zi Yuan said. "Which is far more important than the first."

    There was a pregnant pause. Anticipation filled Li Yundong's heart as he waited for Zi Yuan to continue.

    "The ability to concentrate your Qi plays a crucial role in the Zhuji phase."

    Li Yundong sat up straighter. "How so?"

    "It affects the formation of your Vital Orb, you see. In particular, it affects the pureness and structural integrity of your Vital Orb. If your Qi isn't concentrated enough when you try to pass the Zhuji phase, you'll just end up with a Vital Orb that is weak and impure even if you do manage to pass the Zhuji phase. There's actually a term for such Vital Orbs. It's called—"

    "Pseudo Vital Orbs," Li Yundong said.

    Zi Yuan seemed taken aback. "You know?"

    Li Yundong shrugged. Did it count as knowing if the knowledge was only a few hours old? He'd only heard of the term when Su Chan was relaying Ao Wushuang's words to him.

    "What do I have to do?" Li Yundong looked at Zi Yuan steadily. "How do I improve my Qi's concentration?"

    "You'll have to start from the beginning, of course." Zi Yuan smiled at him.

    "From the beginning as in..."

    Zi Yuan smirked. "From the ground up. You'll have to learn basic Cultivation Theory."

    Theory? Good God. This was like studying for finals all over again. Li Yundong shuddered.

    "Why? You scared?" Ruan Hongling taunted.

    "No," Li Yundong growled, glaring at Ruan Hongling. Then, he turned to Zi Yuan. "Just wondering if it's really necessary to start from the beginning."

    "Unfortunately yes," Zi Yuan said. "The concepts in Cultivation are interrelated. One builds upon the other."

    Right. Su Chan had mentioned that too.

    "First, I need you to know how everything works. But that’s only possible if you have some basic understanding of Cultivation Theory. After that we can start conditioning your Dantians to perform more advanced Qi-control training. And yes." Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "Learning how to increase the concentration of your Qi is the highest level of Qi control training, in case you're wondering."

    "Right."

    "Before this, you've no doubt only learned how to mobilize your Qi. In other words, you've only learned how to control the movement of your Qi, but not its behavior."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Okay. Sounds good." He slapped his thigh and stood up. "When can we start?"

    Zi Yuan rose from the couch and, much to his surprise, began walking towards the balcony. "Tomorrow," she said, pausing at the sliding door.

    Ruan Hongling brushed past him and stepped onto the balcony.

    "Tomorrow?" Li Yundong snorted. "I can start right now."

    Zi Yuan turned around to face him. "No. You need to rest tonight."

    Li Yundong opened his mouth to ask why, but his mouth clicked shut when he saw Zi Yuan's arched brow.

    Right. Because he'd just performed one of the most powerful spells in existence and could barely stand up afterwards. How had he forgotten about that so soon? Oops.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. But what will we be doing tomorrow?"

    Zi Yuan smiled. "We'll be visiting a bookstore."

    Li Yundong gaped at her. "A bookstore?"

    "Yes, Xin Hua Bookstore," Zi Yuan answered coolly. "How are you supposed to learn Cultivation Theory if you don't have the right book?"

    "A book?" Li Yundong chuckled in disbelief. "And Xin Hua Bookstore? Seriously? I can't believe the secrets to Cultivation can be found in a place we buy crappy comic books!"

    Ruan Hongling giggled but then quickly masked her laughter with a cough. Li Yundong shot the girl an amused look and found that she was blushing.

    "Why's that so surprising?" Zi Yuan smiled at Li Yundong. "In fact, it's sold everywhere."

    Li Yundong felt as though he had to pick up his jaw from the floor. "Okay. Which book are you even talking about?"

    If Kama Sutra was part of the book list, then this whole learning-Cultivation-Theory thing might not be as bad as he thought.

    Zi Yuan smirked. "You'll know tomorrow. Rest well." Zi Yuan opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony. Ruan Hongling followed, and soon, the two women disappeared in two flashes of green light.

    Li Yundong stared at the empty balcony and sighed. So it was back to square one, huh? Well, if he was being completely honest, square one was looking an awful lot like square zero at this point.

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  • Chapter 159 Cultivation 101

    "Are you kidding me right now?" Li Yundong stared at the book in Zi Yuan's hand. They were now inside Xin Hua Bookstore at the medical section, where stacks of medical texts—ancient and modern—filled a shelf that was twice as tall as he was. Apparently, the Canon of the Yellow Thearch was the only book he needed to learn the basics of Cultivation. Nope. Not Kama Sutra. Dang.

    Zi Yuan smirked. "Why are you so surprised?"

    "It's a medical text!" And an ancient one at that.

    Okay, well, the text had its merits, he supposed. In fact, he was pretty convinced that the Canon was an effective cure for a chronic illness that had plagued mankind for generations—insomnia.

    Please. Nobody could go one minute into the book without being lulled into sleep.

    But still. The Canon of the Yellow Thearch? Seriously?

    The Yellow Emperor wasn't even a Cultivator! How could he possibly write a book that held all the secrets to Cultivation?

    "It is a medical text, sure," Zi Yuan said casually. "But it also covers all the basic concepts in Cultivation Theory. Things like the Yin-Yang Principle, the five elements, pulse reading, Nutrition Theory, the anatomical properties of your meridians, even the theory behind Qi control. It's all in there."

    Li Yundong took the book from Zi Yuan's hand and stared at it for a moment. "Fine," he said with a sigh. "I'll go through it carefully."

    He'd do anything to become stronger.

    "You are no doubt surprised that the tenets of Cultivation can be found in an ancient medical text?" Zi Yuan asked, sounding amused.

    Li Yundong looked up from the book. "Well. I just find it a bit hard to reconcile with real-world facts, you see?"

    There was a loud snort, which sounded totally derisive and bitchy. Li Yundong glanced to his side just in time to see Ruan Hongling rolling her eyes at him.

    "Many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have read this book," Li Yundong said, glaring at Ruan Hongling. "Yet none of them became badass Cultivators. That doesn't make sense to me."

    Zi Yuan laughed out loud. Li Yundong's gaze snapped to her. Did she just... Did she just laugh?

    "Critical thinking and observation are important skills for Cultivators to have," Zi Yuan said, nodding approvingly. "Keep up the inquisitiveness."

    Li Yundong shrugged casually.

    "And to answer your question," Zi Yuan said, taking the book from him. She spent the next few seconds flipping through the book until she stopped at one page. "Take a look at this."

    Li Yundong took the book again. There was a long passage on the open page. Wait, on second thought... It wasn't even a passage. It was a poem. "What's in here?"

    "Most readers would just skim through this part, thinking that the author was just waxing poetic. But that poem actually contains a deep principle in Cultivation." Zi Yuan tapped a finger on the open page. "This is only one of the many, many examples of things like that." Zi Yuan removed her finger from the page. "The point is, yes, this book is accessible to the public. A lot of people have it on their shelves, that's true. But not many comprehend its true depths."

    Li Yundong closed the book and nodded. Bring it on, then…

    "How much do you know about the history of our school?" Zi Yuan asked. "The Zhengyi School."

    Li Yundong was surprised by the question, but he didn't let it show. "Not much." Well, he did try to research it when Ruan Hongling came knocking on their door the other day, but he didn't learn much from his searches.

    "Some time during the transition between the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring State period, Lao Tzu authored and published his famous work, Tao Te Ching."

    "Aha. That I do know," Li Yundong said.

    Guess those boring lectures in the History of Chinese Literature hadn't been a total waste after all. Hooray.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Then you must know that the contents in Tao Te Ching eventually inspired a religious movement called Taoism. Zhang Daoling, a brilliant scholar, read and understood Tao Te Ching during his early teens. When he grew up, he decided to start a school to spread the teachings of Lao Tzu."

    Li Yundong slapped his thigh. "I know this one! It's called the Way of the Five Pecks of Rice!"

    He read about that during one of his internet searches.

    "That's right. Our school has a lot of names. The Way of the Five Pecks of Rice. The Way of the Celestial Master. But we generally go by the Zhengyi School these days," Zi Yuan said. "Ours is the first ever Taoist school to exist. A lot of other Cultivation schools came into existence after ours did."

    "Right."

    "Do you know how Zhang Daoling managed to gain so many followers and worshippers?"

    A light bulb went off inside his head. "A healer. He was a healer, wasn't he?"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Correct. Back in the days, there were two ways to win the respect of the people and make them revere you. The first was through the practice of the healing arts. And the second was—"

    Li Yundong snapped his fingers. "Martial arts..."

    "Exactly," Zi Yuan said, nodding approvingly. "However, there is a key difference between the two."

    "Uh… Hello? They are both completely different arts?" Li Yundong gave Zi Yuan a dry look. "I'm not that stupid, you know."

    Zi Yuan chuckled. "No. That's not what I meant. I was referring to the difference in terms of the attention they garner from the people."

    Li Yundong frowned. "How so?"

    "Well. A great martial artist will be revered and respected, that's true. But…" Zi Yuan raised a finger. "A great healer is more likely to be loved, trusted, and worshipped by people."

    Li Yundong shrugged. "That makes sense, I suppose. Martial arts is an art of taking lives, but the art of healing is the art of preserving lives."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Which is why most great Cultivators began their Cultivation journey as healers."

    "Which is also why I'm going to absorb everything in this," Li Yundong said, waving the Canon of The Yellow Thearch.

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big deal. I've memorized the whole book since I was seven!" Ruan Hongling piped in. "I can even recite it backwards in my sleep!"

    "The point..." Zi Yuan said, glaring pointedly at Ruan Hongling. "Isn't to memorize everything in the text, but to fully comprehend the concepts it expounds." Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "Once you're able to do that, you'll realize that the concepts are all interconnected."

    "Okay. Got it," Li Yundong said, placing the book under his armpit. "Now let's get out of here so I can start studying."

    Li Yundong walked away from the shelf but then stopped a few steps later. He turned around sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um... I forgot to bring money..."

    Ruan Hongling burst into laughter. "No money?! Pfft! Look at him, Elder Sister! So pathetic!"

    Anger rose in him. He stepped forward and growled, "I've had enough of your attitude, you little bitc—"

    "Cut it out! Both of you!" Zi Yuan hissed. Then, she gave Ruan Hongling a hard stare. "You need to stop making my life so difficult, Hongling."

    Ruan Hongling snorted and muttered something under her breath. Something about Jindan's Heir and preferential treatment.

    "And you, Li Yundong..."

    Li Yundong looked away from Ruan Hongling and found Zi Yuan staring at him pointedly.

    "Just focus on your mission and don't worry about anything else. Food. Money. Whatever it is, I'll take care of it for you."

    Confusion shot through Li Yundong. None of this made sense. "Why are you helping me?"

    Zi Yuan regarded Li Yundong for a moment. The coolness behind her gaze made him squirm. God knew he might turn into a human Popsicle if she kept staring at him like that.

    "Like I said, I'm seeking an answer in you. A confirmation."

    "What confirmation?"

    A tiny smile formed on Zi Yuan's lips, then she started shaking her head. "You wouldn't understand even if I tell you."

    "Try me," Li Yundong shot back.

    Zi Yuan sighed, then gave him a hard stare. "Stop asking already. Remember that I'm on your side. That's all you need to know."

    Easy for you to say. You're not the one whose life is on the line…

    Li Yundong regarded Zi Yuan for a moment. He'd be lying if he said that he didn't feel at least a little bit suspicious about Zi Yuan's motivations.

    Why were they helping him? Why the sudden change in attitude? Weren't they trying to kill him and Su Chan just days ago?

    But still. Su Chan trusted Zi Yuan...

    Li Yundong sighed. "Fine. Thank you so much for your help, Miss Zi Yuan. I owe you one." Li Yundong looked Zi Yuan in the eye. "I'll find a way to repay you some day."

    Zi Yuan nodded before turning back to Ruan Hongling. "Hongling, go pay for the book, and then let's get out of here."

    ***

    "Hey! You still alive in there?"

    Ruan Hongling's voice made Li Yundong look up from the Canon. Like last time she was here, Ruan Hongling was perched on the balcony's railing. Li Yundong put down the book and did a quick stretch. The living room was dark and... Wait. It was dark already? When did that happen?

    Li Yundong looked sharply towards sliding door. Ruan Hongling was stepping into the apartment on her own. Li Yundong snorted. By all means. Please come in. Make yourself at home.

    "Why are you here?" he asked sharply.

    "To take care of your dead body if you're dead," Ruan Hongling said offhandedly.

    A twinge of annoyance coursed through him. Somehow, this girl just rubbed him the wrong way. "What gave you the idea that I might be dead," Li Yundong said, quirking a brow.

    "You haven't left your apartment since you returned from the bookstore, doofus," Ruan Hongling said dryly.

    "Since I returned from the..." Li Yundong pondered for a moment. "Wait, what day is today?"

    "What a loser." Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "We went to the bookstore yesterday morning!"

    Which meant he'd spent the whole day and night yesterday reading. The whole day today too, since it was already night time. Wow. Li Yundong never knew he had it in him to be so engrossed in a book.

    Maybe the Yellow Emperor deserved a Pulitzer Prize.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat. "As you can see, I'm alive and well. Thank you for your concern. The door's over there. Please see yourself out. Goodbye." Li Yundong picked up the book again. "Oh, and please don't slam the door on your way out. You've ruined enough things in my apartment already." Including his mood.

    "It's not like I want to be here to see your disgusting face," Ruan Hongling grumbled. "I wouldn't even come here if Elder Sister Zi Yuan hadn't ordered me to check on you."

    There was a rustling sound followed by a thud. Ruan Hongling had just placed a huge plastic bag on the coffee table.

    Li Yundong opened his mouth to speak. "What's—"

    A flash of green light drew Li Yundong's attention to the balcony. Li Yundong sighed inwardly when he saw Zi Yuan stepping into the apartment. "People invent front doors for a reason, you know?"

    "Honestly, Hongling. How many times do I have to tell you to watch your temper? How are you ever going to become a good Cultivator if you anger that easily?"

    Ruan Hongling sneered, then pointed a finger at him. "It's his fault! He provoked me!"

    "Yeah? Well you were asking for it," Li Yundong said coolly.

    Ruan Hongling stomped her foot. "You see?! You see?! He keeps saying things like that to provoke me, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    "Just..." Zi Yuan pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just keep your mouths shut. Both of you!" Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong. "So. You've spent two days and one night going through the text. Do you have a better understanding of how things work now?"

    Li Yundong smiled. "As a matter of fact, I do."

    Zi Yuan returned his smile and walked around the coffee table. "Oh? Let's hear it then," she said, taking a seat on the couch.

    "One of the things I found interesting is that there's actually a link between our five senses and our five Zangs," Li Yundong said. "For example, the eyes are linked to the Liver. So when we close our eyes, it's like closing a valve inside our Liver. We'll feel calmer. Our blood pressure, blood flow rate, and even our body metabolism will decrease too. It also helps preserve our energy and strength."

    Zi Yuan smiled and nodded. "Go on."

    "And then there's the stuff about the five elements, which I found rather interesting."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "What are the five elements then?"

    Li Yundong started ticking off the list with his fingers. "Metal. Wood. Water. Fire. Earth."

    "And why are they significant?"

    "Hah!" Li Yundong clapped his hands together. "This is the part I found the most intriguing." He sat up straighter. "The concept of the five elements can be used to model a wide array of phenomena. Cosmic cycles. The interaction between the five Zangs. And even politics!"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Good. What else?"

    "And there's an interesting relationship between the five elements. The first is called the Feeding or Generating Cycle where each element feeds or enhances another. Wood feeds Fire. Fire creates Earth. Earth bears Metal. Metal collects Water. And Water nourishes Wood. And there's a backward cycle as well—the Overcoming Cycle. Wood parts Earth, like how the roots of trees can split the soil on the ground. Earth absorbs Water. Water extinguishes Fire. Fire melts Metal. And Metal cuts down Wood!"

    Zi Yuan leaned back in the couch. "Very good. And what about concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine? What have you learned?"

    Li Yundong went on to present his newfound understanding about the Three Treasures—Essence, Qi, and Spirit—and how they were related to each other and to the five Zangs. Then, he told Zi Yuan everything he could remember about the function of each Zangs and how each of them utilizes the components of the Three Treasures to function. He even told her about the stuff he'd learned from his discussions with Su Chan, and then moved on to explain how the Sutai, Lianqi, and the Ningshen phases worked. Finally, he grab his notebook and mapped out every single meridian inside the human body.

    When he was done, Zi Yuan was smiling and giving him appreciative nods whereas Ruan Hongling was gaping like a fish.

    "What? Did I get everything right?"

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  • Chapter 160 The Letter

    "These are for you." Zi Yuan pointed at the coffee table where the plastic bag sat. "You should eat. You haven't eaten in two days."

    Li Yundong smiled. "Nah. I'm good. I think I'm just gonna keep reading."

    "Hey! I took all the trouble to buy your food," Ruan Hongling snapped, "and you're not even gonna eat it?"

    "Hongling..." Zi Yuan glared at Ruan Hongling, then looked back towards him. She sighed. "Looks like the Canon's true meaning eludes you." She shook her head. "You still don't understand what Cultivation truly entails."

    Li Yundong frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    Okay, fine. He might have sounded a bit defensive, but come on! He'd just spent two days poring over the Canon!

    "Fine. Tell me what is Cultivation? How do you Cultivate?" Zi Yuan paused for a moment, then smirked. "Sitting in a meditative posture and practice Qi control? Breathing?"

    "Umm... You mean it's not?"

    Zi Yuan kept smirking at him.

    "Wearing the crown of three flowers and the Convergence of five Qis!" Li Yundong gestured his hands wildly. "These processes enable the Cultivator to convert their Essence, Qi, and blood into Spirit? I thought that's what Cultivation is all about!"

    Zi Yuan shook her head and reached for the plastic bag. "That's just a superficial understanding of Cultivation, I'm afraid." Zi Yuan began to pull out takeout boxes and containers from the plastic bag.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Enlighten me, then."

    Zi Yuan opened one of the takeout boxes.

    Li Yundong took a peek. Stir-fried lotus. Yum.

    "Generally speaking, Cultivation is the process of acquiring the skills and abilities to go against the natural order of the universe. However, to acquire such skills, you must first experience the workings of the natural order. You must first live it." Zi Yuan stared pointedly at Li Yundong. "In a sense, this is like resistance training. Why do people lift weights? They lift weights to develop the strength and ability to lift heavier weights." Zi Yuan looked away and began laying out the chopsticks. "Living in accordance to the natural order involves going with the flow. Doing something when it's the right time to do something. Eating when you're hungry. Sleeping when it's time to sleep."

    Li Yundong sighed. "Right." He got up from the floor and took a seat on the couch. Minutes later, he was wolfing down the food with a speed that would make Su Chan proud.

    Li Yundong looked up from his container when Zi Yuan tapped the table with her knuckles. "What?"

    "You should slow down," Zi Yuan said. "Chew your food properly before you swallow. Otherwise, your stomach would have to expend more energy and blood to digest it. That extra energy could've been used for other activities."

    Now that he thought about it, the Canon of the Yellow Thearch did have a section on that. Damn. Reading about it was one thing, but to put it into practice was another thing altogether.

    The next twenty minutes went by rather awkwardly, mostly because Zi Yuan was watching him eat as though he was some kind of lab rat. For once, Ruan Hongling was sitting quietly in the corner instead of constantly getting on his case.

    While clearing up the empty takeout boxes and wiping down the coffee table, Li Yundong suddenly remembered something. "Um... Can you guys give me a ride to the motel? I need to get some stuff."

    "What stuff?" Zi Yuan asked.

    "Oh. Well, some of my things—and Su Chan's—are still in the motel room. We stayed there when we were hiding from you two."

    Zi Yuan thought for a moment, then nodded. "Sure. No problem. Taking a walk after a meal is good for you."

    Li Yundong finished clearing the table and went inside his room. When he came out, he walked up to Zi Yuan. "Here. I'm returning this to you."

    Zi Yuan smiled and took the damask from him. "Why the sudden change of heart?"

    Li Yundong returned her smile. "You're basically teaching me for free. This is the least I can do." Li Yundong turned to Ruan Hongling. "There. I've returned the damask. Can we call a truce now?"

    Implied meaning: You can stop annoying me now, thanks.

    Ruan Hongling grinned, then gave Li Yundong a casual wave.

    After that, Li Yundong left the apartment on his own using the front door—like a normal person—whereas Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling flew away from his balcony. Inside the elevator, he began reminiscing about his time with Su Chan: Su Chan liked to poke around the elevator panel; Su Chan liked to jump up and down whenever the elevator was moving; Su Chan would do this; Su Chan would do that.

    By the time Li Yundong reached the ground floor, he was nearly in tears. He missed his little chipmunk. Dearly.

    He hurried out of his apartment block and walked towards the gates of New Hongsheng District. Near the gates, he saw a small crowd gathered at the gazebo. All of a sudden, terrible thoughts began to creep into his mind, most of which had a recurring theme: did someone jump off the building again?

    He soon realized, however, that the crowd was gathered there for less morbid reasons. Once he got close enough to the gazebo, he noticed everyone in the crowd staring at the stone table Zi Yuan had used—when did she even return it?—for the demo the day before yesterday.

    "Good God! How did the palm print even get there?!"

    "This table was gone for a day, and then reappeared with a perfect palm print on it. So weird..."

    Li Yundong shook his head in amusement and moved away from the gazebo.

    A dark sedan—Hongqi—was parked just outside the gates. The car's engine was already running, and through the windshield, Li Yundong saw Ruan Hongling sitting behind the wheel. Li Yundong climbed into the backseat and told Zi Yuan the name of the motel. Seconds later, they were off.

    Half an hour later, Li Yundong returned to his apartment carrying Su Chan's Hello Kitty piggy bank and a bunch of other stuff. This time Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling followed his example and actually used the front door—thank the Universe for small favors—to enter his apartment.

    Li Yundong carried Su Chan's things into her room. Inside her room, he stopped to think of the best place to store her piggy bank. A moment later, he padded towards her wardrobe.

    Su Chan's scent assaulted his nostril the moment he opened her wardrobe. He stood there, staring at the wardrobe's contents until he realized that he was acting like a lovesick puppy. He shook his head in disgust and stuffed the piggy bank onto the wardrobe's bottom shelf.

    Something caught his eye. A piece of paper—folded in half—sat on top of Su Chan's clothes. He took the paper and realized that it was a page torn out from his notebook.

    One side of the paper was filled with strange doodles: MacDonald's symbols; a cute fox; a funny drawing of him (with his hair looking like an onion).

    Tears stung his eyes. He sniffed and flipped over the paper.

    Su Chan's beautiful cursive stared right back at him.

    It was a note. A long one.

    Yundong... If you're reading this, then it means you've somehow found out my true identity and have decided that you no longer want me in your life. I just want to say that, although short, the time I spent with you contains the happiest moments in my life. Thank you, Yundong, for all the happy memories you have given me. I will cherish them forever. Below is a list of instructions to pass the Zhuji phase...

    Tears blotted the paper's surface. Li Yundong sniffed and dried his tears with the back of his hand. He shifted the paper in his hands and continued to read.

    Su Chan had clearly written this letter a long time ago; the carefully-written instructions had all been told to him in person when he tried to pass the Zhuji phase the other night at the motel. She must have written the letter before he found out that she was a fox spirit.

    There was another long paragraph after the list of instructions.

    I know you must hate me or feel disgusted with me because of who I am. Perhaps even more so after finding out that I've been lying to you this whole time. Yes, I lied to you. But not for the reason you might think. The feelings I have for you is real. That's why I lied. I knew you would find out the truth one day and then come to hate me when you do. Hiding my true identify from you allowed me to stay with you just a bit longer, so I did it. I lied. I know it's selfish of me, and I'm sorry. Maybe it's a good thing that things end between us. You are a talented Cultivator with a lot of great accomplishments awaiting you in the future. Someone like you shouldn't be associated with a fox spirit like me. If you're planning to disregard everything you've read in this letter, that's okay too. But please just follow the instructions to pass the Zhuji phase. It is absolutely vital that you pass the Zhuji phase no matter what. There are people after you, Yundong. After the Jindan inside you. You need to be ready to face them. Thank you, and goodbye.

    Love, Su Chan.

    Li Yundong bit back a sob and folded the paper carefully. He shut the wardrobe and left Su Chan's room. He entered his own room, placed Su Chan's letter in his drawer, and then sat down on his bed.

    The contents of Su Chan's letter had pretty much knocked the wind out of him, figuratively speaking. All these while, Su Chan had assumed that he would come to hate her after finding out who she truly was. All of a sudden, every single aspect of Su Chan's behavior, including her frequent displays of insecurity, made sense.

    Li Yundong shook his head and stood up from the bed. He had to get stronger and survive the Heavenly Thunder. That was the only way he and Su Chan could build a future together.

    When he left his room, he was surprise to see Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling still inside his apartment. Zi Yuan was standing at the doorway. Ruan Hongling, on the other hand, was lounging on his couch, clearly making herself at home.

    Li Yundong walked past the living room and headed towards the doorway. "Why are you standing at the door?" he asked. "Go sit in the living room or something."

    Zi Yuan gave him a strange look. "I can't believe you left the Fox Zen School's treasure beside your door like some kind of trash bag." Zi Yuan pointed at the huge tessen leaning against the wall beside the shoe shelf.

    He'd moved the tessen there yesterday so that it didn't draw attention when people looked into his apartment through the balcony. In hindsight, he should've moved it into his room.

    Zi Yuan shook her head. "I wonder what the great fox elder Pan Shi would think when he saw his creation treated so carelessly."

    Li Yundong picked up the tessen and shook it a few times. It felt rather clumsy and heavy. "I don't get it," he said. "What's so great about this fan? To me it's just a heavy and bulky fan."

    There was a loud snort, which sounded totally unladylike.

    Li Yundong turned towards the couch and saw Ruan Hongling rolling her eyes.

    Zi Yuan just looked amused.

    Suddenly, Zi Yuan smirked and pointed at the tessen. "Why don't you try opening it?"

    Li Yundong did as he was told. Well, tried to, because the fan wouldn't open. He stared at the tessen in surprise, then decided to try again. This time, he got his Qi involved.

    It worked. The tessen slowly slid open.

    Once it was fully opened, the tessen looked like a metal folding screen with golden Sanskrit characters printed all over its surface. The Sanskrit characters gleamed and glittered in a way that seemed unearthly.

    The words looked beautiful, even though he didn't understand what they meant.

    Li Yundong reached out with a hand and began to caress the tessen's shiny surface. As he did, his mind went to Su Chan once again.

    "Behold, The Fan of Seven Treasures," Zi Yuan said.

    "The Fan of Seven Treasures..." Li Yundong repeated after Zi Yuan.

    Zi Yuan's next words nearly made him fall over.

    "It is perhaps the most misogynistic magical weapon ever created."

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  • Chapter 161 The Fan of Seven Treasures

    Li Yundong ended his ministration on the fan's surface. "Misogynistic? What on earth gave you that idea?"

    Try as he might, Li Yundong couldn't hide the surprise in his voice. He took a step back and studied the tessen like it was an odd specimen. How could this thing by misogynistic? It wasn't like the fan had a will of its own... Or did it?

    "That's because only a man can wield its full power," Zi Yuan said casually.

    Li Yundong frowned. "But why? Why does it matter?" Li Yundong paused in thought. "Well, it is a little heavy, I suppose."

    "No," Zi Yuan said with a shake of her head. "This has nothing to do with its weight or size."

    Li Yundong gave her a puzzled look. "Okay?"

    "Have you heard of the Diamond Sutra?"

    "Err… It's a Buddhist scripture if I'm not mistaken."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "According to the Diamond Sutra, Gautama Buddha himself said that there are seven treasures inside a man's body and five leaks—or punctures—inside a woman's body." Zi Yuan paused and ran her palm over the fan's surface. "Take a look at these inscriptions. What do you make of them?"

    Li Yundong brought his face closer to the fan and studied the strange engravings on its surface. "Well… They're Sanskrit." He looked towards Zi Yuan for confirmation. "Right?"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "As a matter of fact… You're staring at the Diamond Sutra."

    Li Yundong gave Zi Yuan a look of surprise. "Wait, what? You mean the whole scripture is…" Li Yundong's gaze drifted towards the fan once more.

    Zi Yuan smirked, then nodded. "Yes. These inscriptions contain all the verses from the Diamond Sutra."

    Li Yundong chuckled. "No wonder it's so... big."

    "Before he became a Shenxian, the fox elder Pan Shi created this fan and then inscribed the entire Diamond Sutra onto its surface in honor of the great dharma heir and Zen master, Baizhang Huaihai."

    Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan. Baizhang who?

    It didn't seem like Zi Yuan had noticed of his confusion. Zi Yuan looked almost pensive as she stood there stroking the fan's surface. She also had a faraway look in her eyes, like she was revisiting old memories.

    Li Yundong didn't want to interrupt her thoughts, so he kept watching her, waiting for her to continue.

    Seconds later, she did. "After that, Pan Shi performed an adhisthana on the fan." Zi Yuan looked towards Li Yundong briefly. "Adhisthana is like a blessing ceremony that grants an object or a person magical powers. Anyway, Pan Shi blessed this fan with Vajra magic, which can only be wielded by someone with a body of seven treasures. In other words, only a man can wield its magic."

    Li Yundong nodded. "No wonder Su Chan said that none of her sisters in the Fox Zen School are able to use it..." he mumbled to himself.

    "So unfair."

    Both Li Yundong and Zi Yuan looked towards the couch where Ruan Hongling sat with a dark scowl on her face.

    "A lot of spells and magic can only be mastered by men, not women," Ruan Hongling grumbled.

    Li Yundong stole a glance at Zi Yuan who appeared to be engrossed in her own thoughts. Perhaps this was one thing that Zi Yuan couldn't correct Ruan Hongling on.

    "I mean, just take a look at the long history of Cultivation," Ruan Hongling ranted. "The number of female Shenxians are far too little compared to the number male Shenxians." Ruan Hongling snorted. "Oh, and let's not forget what happened to the Mystical Silver—"

    "Hongling..." Zi Yuan said in a warning tone.

    "What, Elder Sister!" Ruan Hongling snapped. "It's history! It really happened."

    Li Yundong's eyes bounced back and forth between Ruan Hongling and Zi Yuan. Clearly, these two were talking about something he knew absolutely nothing about. Moments later, Zi Yuan's shoulder sagged slightly and she sighed.

    "Um... guys...? Do you mind explaining to me what you guys were talking about? I mean I am trying to become a Cultivator, so... maybe some background knowledge would… you know…" Li Yundong finished lamely.

    Ruan Hongling crossed her arms and regarded him for a moment. "Does the name The Mystical Silver Fox ring any bells? Did your girlfriend ever mention that name to you?" Ruan Hongling asked without taking her eyes off him.

    Li Yundong shook his head.

    Ruan Hongling huffed out a breath. "Well, she was the fourth head of the Fox Zen School. Anyway, she sneaked into Mount Wutai one time to research on Buddhist magic. And guess what? She tried to master a Vajra spell and went into Zouhuo Rumo state. She only survived because a monk sacrificed his life to save her."

    The living room fell silent. Li Yundong didn't know what to make of what he'd just heard. Who was this Mystical Silver Fox? From what he'd heard so far, she sounded like a controversial figure. Why hadn't Su Chan told him any of this?

    "The Fox Zen School has produced quite a few prodigies over the years," Ruan Hongling said. "The Mystical Silver Fox is probably the greatest among them. Her magical powers were phenomenal back then." Ruan Hongling snorted. "Not anymore though. Now she is weak. Then again, the Fox Zen School has Ao Wushuang now. Too bad—"

    "Enough, Hongling. It is disrespectful to discuss the affairs of other schools."

    "But—"

    "Enough..." Zi Yuan said sternly.

    The two women glared at each other across the room.

    Li Yundong cleared his throat and raised his palms.

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa, guys, guys... Why don't we all just... chill?"

    After a while, Ruan Hongling looked away with a loud huff. Li Yundong turned towards Zi Yuan. "Um… Can you explain to me how to use this thing properly?" Li Yundong tapped the Fan of Seven Treasures with his knuckles.

    Zi Yuan looked away from Ruan Hongling. "There are two ways to use it. You can either use it as a physical weapon, or you can use its magical properties."

    Li Yundong chuckled. "A physical weapon? You mean like smashing someone's head with it? But it's so heavy and bulky."

    Zi Yuan smiled. "I can show it to you," she said, then paused to look at him. "Only if you don't mind, of course."

    Li Yundong shrugged. "Sure." He lifted the fan off the floor and handed it over to Zi Yuan.

    Despite her slender frame, Zi Yuan lifted the bulky fan with ease and carried it towards the living room. Even Ruan Hongling had stopped sulking and was now following Zi Yuan's movements curiously. The girl's face still looked a bit sullen, but Li Yundong suspected that it was her natural look. He kept that thought to himself lest he start another bickering match.

    Zi Yuan stopped at the center of the living room. She glanced around the apartment a few times, then shook her head. A second later, her eyes were on Li Yundong. "There's not enough room here. Come with me." Zi Yuan jerked her chin towards the sliding door. "I'll show you how it can be used as a physical weapon."

    Then, without waiting for Li Yundong's response, Zi Yuan strode towards the sliding door and stepped outside onto the balcony. Ruan Hongling rose from the couch a moment later and followed Zi Yuan to the balcony.

    Li Yundong sighed and shook his head. "It's like they own the damn place," he grumbled.

    By the time Li Yundong stepped through the sliding door, Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling were nowhere to be seen. No doubt those two had flown off again.

    Li Yundong sighed inwardly. Great. Now where the hell am I supposed to go?

    Li Yundong leaned over the top of the railing and looked up and down.

    "Uh... Hello?!!" he yelled into the night. "You two geniuses seem to have forgotten something very, very important! You see, guys. I can't fly—Whoa! Shit!" Li Yundong reached for the railing when his legs suddenly levitated off the floor.

    He grabbed the railing tighter.

    "Let go of the railing, doofus!"

    Li Yundong looked up and saw Ruan Hongling staring down at him.

    Li Yundong let go of the railing and allowed his body to float upwards until he was level with Ruan Hongling.

    Li Yundong glared at Ruan Hongling. "How about a little warning next time, huh?"

    Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "Too scared to fly? Tsk, tsk, tsk. What a sissy. So much for being the Jindan's Heir."

    "Hey! Who says I'm scared? I was just startled—" Li Yundong yelped when his body suddenly shot into the air.

    At least he managed not to squeak. Barely.

    Seconds later, he landed on the rooftop of his apartment block. Zi Yuan was already there, waiting for him.

    "What took you so long?" Zi Yuan asked the moment his feet touched the floor.

    "Maybe because he got scared and started crying like a baby!"

    "Hey! I told you I wasn't scared!" He glared at Ruan Hongling, who was lowering herself to the roof. He turned away from Ruan Hongling to face Zi Yuan. "I wasn't scared. I swear."

    A smirk tugged at Zi Yuan's lips. Then, she waved her hand a few times. "Back away a few steps."

    Li Yundong did as he was told.

    Zi Yuan swung the fan in a wide arc and then let it rest on her right shoulder. "Now watch," she said, giving Li Yundong a pointed look. "This is how you use it as a physical weapon."

    SWISH! CLACK! The fan spread open after a flick of Zi Yuan's wrist. What! How the heck did she…? Li Yundong had to use his Qi to even spread the fan, yet she did it so effortlessly. Wait… What was that?

    Something strange was happening to the fan's leaves. They weren't stationary at all; they were rotating about the ribs like a bunch of spinning blades.

    SNAP! The fan closed again with Zi Yuan holding it like a Bo staff. Zi Yuan moved into a fighting stance, and then started dancing around the rooftop. SNAP! The fan opened again.

    "I see..." Li Yundong whispered. The fan could be wielded as a Bo staff, and then opened to increase its striking range. He had no doubt that those spinning blades would tear anything to shreds upon contact.

    Zi Yuan's demonstration lasted for quite a while. Hell, Li Yundong almost didn't want it to end. It was the most impressive weapons demonstration that he'd ever seen.

    "Amazing..." he said when Zi Yuan placed the fan back into his arms.

    "That's actually nothing," Zi Yuan said with a smile. She didn't even look like she broke a sweat.

    "Hah! Elder Sister Zi Yuan is capable of things that are far more impressive things than that!" Ruan Hongling said.

    Li Yundong nodded. "I'm sure that's true."

    Ruan Hongling beamed with pride.

    "What about spells?" Li Yundong ran his hand over the fan's surface. "How do you use spells with this thing?"

    Zi Yuan smiled wryly. "Unfortunately, I can't show you that because... well, for obvious reasons." She gestured at her own body.

    "Right. Because you're not a man."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Only someone with the body of seven treasures can unlock the fan's weapon." Zi Yuan held his gaze steadily. "I guess you'll find out once you pass the Zhuji phase and reach the Shentong phase."

    Li Yundong stared down at the weapon inside his arms. So close yet so far.

    ***

    Zi Yuan landed on the balcony of Hongling's apartment, which was right across Li Yundong's apartment block.

    The sliding door opened, and Hongling poked her head out.

    "Come on in, Elder Sister Zi Yuan."

    Zi Yuan turned, and gave the rooftop of the opposite block a final glance. Li Yundong was still up there having fun with the Fan of Seven Treasures.

    "Elder Sister?"

    Zi Yuan tore her gaze away from the rooftop and found Hongling staring at her quizzically. Instead of entering the apartment, Zi Yuan turned around and stared out into the night sky.

    The sliding door closed behind her. Hongling was standing beside her seconds later.

    "What's on your mind, Elder Sister?"

    Zi Yuan sighed. "Nothing… It's just…"

    "You're thinking about the Jindan's Heir again, aren't you?"

    Zi Yuan didn't answer. Why bother when the answer was already so obvious?

    "Are you just going to keep helping him, Elder Sister Zi Yuan?"

    "Is that a problem?"

    Hongling was silent for a while.

    "To be honest, I don't see the point," Hongling said.

    Zi Yuan looked at her young protégé.

    Hongling held her palms up defensively as though she was expecting to be reprimanded. "Don't get me wrong, Elder Sister. I think he's smart and talented. But he lacks experience." Hongling held Zi Yuan's gaze. "I'm not sure he'll be able to survive the Heavenly Thunder."

    For once, Zi Yuan couldn't come up with a counterargument against Hongling. "I…" Zi Yuan sighed. "I don't know, Hongling. I don't know…"

    Silence spread between them.

    "Are you thinking about Master's prophecy?" Hongling asked.

    "What if this is the ultimate test?" Zi Yuan said.

    "What do you mean?"

    "I mean what if Li Yundong's divine punishment is the ultimate test of whether Master's prophecy is true?"

    "Hmm…"

    "It makes sense, doesn't it?" Zi Yuan said. "If Li Yundong failed to survive, then Master's prophecy is clearly wrong. But if he did…" Zi Yuan trailed off.

    "If he did?" Hongling asked after a while.

    "Then I don't know… Maybe we'll become allies…"

    Hongling snorted.

    Zi Yuan smiled. "What is it with you two, Hongling?"

    "He just… rubs me the wrong way, I guess."

    Or maybe you're just jealous of his talents…

    "Regardless," Zi Yuan said in a stern voice. "We'll keep teaching him for now. So I want you two to start getting along."

    "Great. Now I have to tolerate his obnoxious attitude for God knows how long," Hongling grumbled.

    Zi Yuan chuckled. "You might not have to worry about that, Hongling."

    "Yeah right. You just told me that we're going to stick around him."

    "Nope," Zi Yuan said. "You won't be seeing him in a few days."

    "Seriously?" Hongling sounded surprise.

    "Yes, seriously." Zi Yuan smiled. "I'm taking him to that place. And you'll be going back to the mountains to take care of those souls."

    "What! You're taking him there?!" Hongling shouted. "B- But… He's going to die before he even tries to pass the Zhuji phase!"

    "Well. There is a risk of that." Zi Yuan sighed. "But if he couldn't even survive that place, then he definitely wouldn't be able to survive the divine punishment…"

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  • Chapter 162 Genius Freak

    Ruan Hongling stormed out of her kitchen and went into her living room. "Ooh, Hongling, please go check on him and make sure he eats," Ruan Hongling mumbled, mimicking Elder Sister Zi Yuan's cold voice.

    She opened the sliding door and stepped onto her balcony, where the morning air and sunrise greeted her. The whole view would've been pleasant if she wasn't feeling this grumpy.

    "What am I, his caretaker?" Ruan Hongling grumbled, closing the sliding door behind her. She stood in front of the railing and looked towards the opposite block. Li Yundong's balcony was empty.

    Still asleep, probably.

    Ruan Hongling snorted. What a slacker. He should be up by now, practicing Qi control. The human body's Yang Qi thrives during hour of the Dragon (the time between 7 AM to 9 AM).

    Ruan Hongling leaped off her balcony and vanished in a burst of green light. Flying at high speeds during the day was crucial to avoid drawing attention. A second later, she landed on Li Yundong's balcony with a soft thud and then sat on the railing for a moment.

    The sliding door was open, just the way she had left it last night. Ruan Hongling frowned. Why didn't he close it when he came back last night? Ruan Hongling pushed herself off the railing, then stepped into the apartment. The living room was empty, so were the kitchen and the dining room. She checked the bedrooms last, and found that Li Yundong wasn't in either bedrooms.

    Wait... Don't tell me he's been practicing on the rooftop all night...

    Ruan Hongling ran out to the balcony and channeled her Qi into her Shenting. Leaning against the railing, she listened carefully to the surrounding noises with Eryue. Eventually, she heard the unmistakable swinging of the metal fan and Li Yundong's grunting.

    Ruan Hongling snorted. The idiot probably thought he could master how to wield the fan in just one night.

    She leaped off Li Yundong's balcony and flew all the way up to the rooftop. However, Ruan Hongling got the surprise of her life the moment she landed on the rooftop.

    Li Yundong wasn't just practicing how to use the fan properly; he was wielding it like a master.

    For one, he wasn't even touching the fan; the fan was just dancing around his body as though he was controlling it with some kind of telekinetic ability.

    Oh, yes. She'd heard of this property of the Fan of the Seven Treasures. Elder Sister Zi Yuan had told her about it a long time ago. Apparently, the fan would acknowledge a man as worthy of wielding it and then form some sort of telepathic bond with the wielder. That way, the wielder could control the fan with his mind. The fan would also develop some kind of protective instinct towards the wielder and come to his rescue the moment he feels threatened.

    White steam rose from the top of Li Yundong's head. The crown of three flowers... Not bad for someone who barely had any experience in Qi-control training. Please. Two months wouldn't be considered as "experience" at all. Not by a long shot.

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong's hand shot out and grabbed the fan—at its rivet—from the air. The fan stopped spinning and then—SNAP! The fan folded itself into a stick. Li Yundong spun the fan around his waist like a Bo staff and then hoisted it above his head. SNAP! The fan spread open once again when Li Yundong tossed it forward.

    The fan spun around the rooftop like a huge chakram. It took Ruan Hongling a few seconds, but she eventually realized that the spinning fan was following the movements of Li Yundong's eyes—he was controlling the fan mentally.

    Li Yundong's hand shot out again. The fan stopped in its flight path and did a complete one-eighty. It was now flying back to Li Yundong's hand. SNAP! The fan closed moments before it reached Li Yundong's hand. Li Yundong caught the fan's rivet and then—SNAP!—spread it open again. He leaped into the air, then swung the open fan in a wide arc. A strong gust of wind swirled around the rooftop.

    Ruan Hongling doubted Li Yundong had used his full strength in that swing. If he used his Qi and the Jindan's Aura, he could probably generate a mini hurricane.

    Li Yundong landed on the floor with a heavy thud. SNAP! The fan closed up.

    Then Ruan Hongling saw this look in his eyes: the intensity; the sharp focus. It was like nothing else existed in his world at that moment. He was looking at something intensely, some imaginary opponent that only he could see. He cocked his arm—the one carrying the fan—backwards and then launched the fan forward like a spear. SNAP! The fan spread open and spun forward in a straight line. Li Yundong charged forward as though he was chasing after the fan. Suddenly, he ducked and got into a low crouch, from which he launched an upward kick. SWISH! ZING! The spinning fan streak over the top of Li Yundong's body moments after he launched the upward kick.

    Ruan Hongling soon realized that none of these movements were random—they formed a combo. The upward kick was no doubt a follow-up strike to the first attack—the fan toss. If his opponent ducked the fan toss, the upward kick from below would've sent his opponent into the air. Nobody can duck a projectile while in the air (unless they can fly), so he reversed the spinning fan's motion, getting it to fly backwards and then slice his opponent's body in half. It was genius.

    Something else was happening.

    Whoa... What kind of move is that?

    Ruan Hongling stepped forward to take a closer look.

    Li Yundong was now holding the fan by its rivet. The fan snapped close. Then, he swung the fan above his head with both hands, like a Bo staff. And then…

    Ruan Hongling nearly laughed.  

    What is he even doing?

    Li Yundong turned around and leaped into the air.

    That idiot was leaving his back wide open for attack—

    SNAP!

    Li Yundong twisted his upper body around, and then thrusted the fan backwards in a downward stab. The fan spread open the instant his arm was fully extended.

    SNAP! The fan closed when Li Yundong's feet slammed into the floor.

    Ruan Hongling was stunned. Li Yundong had just applied one of the most brilliant strategies expounded in Sun Tzu's Art of War—retreat, get your opponent to chase after you, and then attack when your opponent least expects it. The same strategy was adopted in martial arts technique such as the retreating horse stab and the art of the dragging knife. By deliberately exposing his back, Li Yundong could lure the enemy to attack his back, and then take his enemy off-guard by parrying and striking with the fan at the same time.

    Ruan Hongling shook her head in amazement. She honestly had no idea what to make of the guy. He was a genius. No, he was a freak of nature. Nobody could be that good, especially not someone who, just two months ago, knew close to nothing about Cultivation and martial arts.

    Li Yundong was now doing a series of fancy moves, spinning the fan around before tossing it into the air.

    Ruan Hongling snorted and looked away. Now he's just showing off and playing around—

    A loud yelp drew Ruan Hongling's attention back to Li Yundong, who was now fumbling around trying to catch the fan from the air. He swiped at the fan. "Argh! Shit!"

    He missed, and the fan ended up bouncing off the top of his head. The fan crashed into the floor with a loud clatter.

    "PFFT! HAHAHA..." Ruan Hongling burst into laughter, then quickly slapped her hands over her mouth.

    Too late. Li Yundong was now glaring daggers at her.

    "What are you doing here?" Li Yundong asked in a not-so-friendly tone.

    Ruan Hongling ignored his question and approached him slowly. "When did you become so good with it?" She nodded at the fan.

    Li Yundong shrugged and picked up the fan from the floor.

    "Did Elder Sister Zi Yuan teach you some new moves after I left?" She'd returned back to her apartment last night after she got bored watching Elder Sister Zi Yuan teach Li Yundong how to use the fan.

    "Nope," Li Yundong said, shaking his head.

    Ruan Hongling could feel her own eyes growing wide. "Then where did you learn all those moves?"

    Li Yundong looked at her strangely. "All that stuff? Well. I was playing around with the fan after Zi Yuan left, so I figured why not come up with a few moves of my own."

    "Y- You came up with those moves?!"

    Was he bragging? Hah! He must be. How could he possibly come up with his own moves in just a day? Nobody was that good.

    Unless he is a genius... or a freak of nature, a small voice inside her mind added.

    Green light filled the rooftop. Ruan Hongling glanced to her right and saw Elder Sister Zi Yuan standing near the rooftop's ledge. Ruan Hongling ran towards Elder Sister Zi Yuan and grabbed her arm. "Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Ruan Hongling pointed at Li Yundong. "Just now... h- he... he..."

    He what? What was she even trying to tell Elder Sister Zi Yuan? That Li Yundong had just come up with a few new moves? That Li Yundong was going to surpass Ruan Hongling and soon replace her as Elder Sister Zi Yuan's protégé?

    "What on earth is the matter with you, Hongling?" Zi Yuan looked at her strangely. "And what took you so long?"

    Ruan Hongling pouted and crossed her arms. "It's nothing. Why don't you ask him?" She pointed at Li Yundong again.

    Damn it! I'm going to train harder! I can't let him be better than me!

    "What's going on here, Li Yundong?" Elder Sister Zi Yuan asked.

    "Oh. It's nothing," Li Yundong said. "I was just playing around with the fan, that's all."

    Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. You call that playing around?

    "Haven't I told you to obey the natural order," Elder Sister Zi Yuan said in a reprimanding tone. "Sleep when it's time to sleep. Following the natural order is an important part of Cultivation."

    Li Yundong chuckled wryly. "Ah. But you forgot something very important last night."

    Ruan Hongling stole a glance at Elder Sister Zi Yuan and noted the frown on her Elder Sister's face.

    "What do you mean?" Elder Sister Zi Yuan asked.

    Li Yundong sighed and lowered the Fan of the Seven Treasures to the floor. "You forgot to think like a normal human being."

    Annoyance flared through Ruan Hongling. "What are you even talking about?" she snapped. How dare he insult Elder Sister Zi Yuan after all the trouble she'd gone through to teach him? That insolent bastard!

    Li Yundong gave her a look. "Seriously?"

    Ruan Hongling growled. "What—"

    "I can't fly, remember? Neither of you thought to come back and take me back to my apartment?" Li Yundong rolled his eyes, then pointed at the door at the rooftop. "The door is locked. So I couldn't walk down. And even if it wasn't locked, it wasn't like I could drag this bulky thing"—He pointed at the fan—"all the way down the stairs."

    Oh... Ruan Hongling glanced sideways and found Elder Sister Zi Yuan staring back at her as well.

    Good God... Elder Sister Zi Yuan actually looked sheepish. Ruan Hongling had never seen that look on her mentor before.

    "So yeah, geniuses... I was left here for the whole night with the Fan of Seven Treasures. So I did what I could to make the best use of my time. Practice."

    "Pffft!!! Hahaha!" Ruan Hongling cracked up.

    This was probably the silliest thing Elder Sister Zi Yuan had ever done in years. Seconds later, Elder Sister Zi Yuan turned away from her. Ruan Hongling could've sworn she saw Elder Sister Zi Yuan's shoulder trembling.

    "Oh, yeah. Keep laughing, eh? You're not the ones who got trapped up here all night," Li Yundong grumbled.

    A while later, Elder Sister Zi Yuan cleared her throat. "Let's get you back to your apartment, then. You must be tired. Besides, I have a few things to discuss with you."

    Ruan Hongling stared at Elder Sister for a moment. So she's going to tell him about bringing him to place already? Ruan Hongling looked towards Li Yundong. Yeah. Good luck surviving that, pal... You're gonna need it.

    ***

    "Face the east side," Zi Yuan said once they were inside Li Yundong's apartment.

    Li Yundong paused on his way to the bedroom. "What?"

    "Sit down and face the east. It's the hour of the Dragon now. Your body's Yang Qi should be thriving. You'll feel refreshed after a few minutes of Qi-control training."

    Li Yundong nodded and padded back to the center of the living room. He sat down with his legs crossed and angled his body eastward. Once Li Yundong's eyes slid shut, Zi Yuan gave Hongling an eye signal. Hongling nodded, and they both slipped quietly to the balcony and left the apartment.

    Zi Yuan and Hongling returned to Li Yundong's apartment around noon. Li Yundong was still in the same pose with his eyes closed when they entered the living room, so they sat down on the couch and waited for him to rouse.

    Twenty minutes later, Li Yundong stirred.

    "Oh. Hey, you guys are here," he said.

    Zi Yuan sneaked a glance at her protégé, who seemed rather sullen ever since she asked her to check on Li Yundong this morning. She wondered what was that about. Did those two get into a quarrel again?

    "What's wrong?" Li Yundong asked again.

    Zi Yuan gave him a smile. "It's nothing."

    "You're both staring at me like I did something strange..."

    "You are blessed with a rare form of Adolescent Yang Qi," Zi Yuan remarked. "And you also have the Jindan's Aura inside you." Zi Yuan regarded him steadily. "You should make treasure them and put them to good use. These traits are hard to come by."

    "Oh, thanks—" Li Yundong paused mid-sentence. He was looking at something. Zi Yuan followed his gaze and saw what he was staring at: the plastic bag containing Li Yundong's lunch that Hongling had left on the coffee table earlier. Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Damn. You guys brought my lunch again? I'm sorry to always trouble you guys..."

    Zi Yuan smiled. "Don't mention it."

    "Thank you," Li Yundong said earnestly. "I really appreciate it."

    Hongling snorted. "Wait what? I think I might have misheard you. Did you just express your appreciation?"

    Zi Yuan sighed inwardly. What was it with Hongling and Li Yundong. Honestly.

    However, Li Yundong didn't argue back this time. Instead, he began removing the containers from the plastic bag. Zi Yuan had a feeling that things had changed ever since Li Yundong returned the damask to them. Li Yundong had begun treating her and Hongling with less hostility. Sometimes, Zi Yuan even felt as though Li Yundong revered and respected her.

    "Hey, by the way, have you guys eaten?"

    Li Yundong's voice brought Zi Yuan out of her thoughts. Li Yundong was staring back at her, his chopsticks hovering inches away from his mouth.

    "So now you're worried about us." Hongling snorted. "And we're starving by the way.

    Zi Yuan shot Hongling a reprimanding look. "Don't listen to her," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Hongling. "We ate this morning."

    "But it's already past noon now," Li Yundong said with a sigh, then set down his chopsticks. "You guys must be hungry already." Suddenly, Li Yundong stood up. "You guys stay here. I'm going out for a moment. I'll be back soon." He turned around and walked towards the door. When he reached the doorway, he paused and turned back around. "By the way, do you mind using the door when you come here next time? Please stop flying in and out of my apartment through the balcony." Li Yundong's face scrunched up. "It makes you two look like a bunch of..." He did some weird gesture with his hands. "... I don't know... Flying thieves."

    After that, he turned around and left the apartment.

    "Did you hear that, Elder Sister Zi Yuan?!" Hongling growled. "He just insulted us! Thieves! He called us flying thieves!"

    Zi Yuan chuckled. "I don't think he meant it quite literally, Hongling."

    Hongling huffed. "Where do you reckon he's going anyway?"

    Zi Yuan smiled at Hongling. "Why ask me when you already know the answer?"

    Hongling grinned and then opened her mouth to speak, but her mouth clicked shut when a loud ringtone sounded.

    "Oh, hey, it's his phone." Hongling picked up Li Yundong's phone from the coffee table.

    When Hongling turned the phone around and showed Zi Yuan the screen, Zi Yuan caught a glimpse of the caller ID: Princess

     

     

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  • Chapter 162 Genius Freak

    Ruan Hongling stormed out of her kitchen and went into her living room. "Ooh, Hongling, please go check on him and make sure he eats," Ruan Hongling mumbled, mimicking Elder Sister Zi Yuan's cold voice.

    She opened the sliding door and stepped onto her balcony, where the morning air and sunrise greeted her. The whole view would've been pleasant if she wasn't feeling this grumpy.

    "What am I, his caretaker?" Ruan Hongling grumbled, closing the sliding door behind her. She stood in front of the railing and looked towards the opposite block. Li Yundong's balcony was empty.

    Still asleep, probably.

    Ruan Hongling snorted. What a slacker. He should be up by now, practicing Qi control. The human body's Yang Qi thrives during hour of the Dragon (the time between 7 AM to 9 AM).

    Ruan Hongling leaped off her balcony and vanished in a burst of green light. Flying at high speeds during the day was crucial to avoid drawing attention. A second later, she landed on Li Yundong's balcony with a soft thud and then sat on the railing for a moment.

    The sliding door was open, just the way she had left it last night. Ruan Hongling frowned. Why didn't he close it when he came back last night? Ruan Hongling pushed herself off the railing, then stepped into the apartment. The living room was empty, so were the kitchen and the dining room. She checked the bedrooms last, and found that Li Yundong wasn't in either bedrooms.

    Wait... Don't tell me he's been practicing on the rooftop all night...

    Ruan Hongling ran out to the balcony and channeled her Qi into her Shenting. Leaning against the railing, she listened carefully to the surrounding noises with Eryue. Eventually, she heard the unmistakable swinging of the metal fan and Li Yundong's grunting.

    Ruan Hongling snorted. The idiot probably thought he could master how to wield the fan in just one night.

    She leaped off Li Yundong's balcony and flew all the way up to the rooftop. However, Ruan Hongling got the surprise of her life the moment she landed on the rooftop.

    Li Yundong wasn't just practicing how to use the fan properly; he was wielding it like a master.

    For one, he wasn't even touching the fan; the fan was just dancing around his body as though he was controlling it with some kind of telekinetic ability.

    Oh, yes. She'd heard of this property of the Fan of the Seven Treasures. Elder Sister Zi Yuan had told her about it a long time ago. Apparently, the fan would acknowledge a man as worthy of wielding it and then form some sort of telepathic bond with the wielder. That way, the wielder could control the fan with his mind. The fan would also develop some kind of protective instinct towards the wielder and come to his rescue the moment he feels threatened.

    White steam rose from the top of Li Yundong's head. The crown of three flowers... Not bad for someone who barely had any experience in Qi-control training. Please. Two months wouldn't be considered as "experience" at all. Not by a long shot.

    All of a sudden, Li Yundong's hand shot out and grabbed the fan—at its rivet—from the air. The fan stopped spinning and then—SNAP! The fan folded itself into a stick. Li Yundong spun the fan around his waist like a Bo staff and then hoisted it above his head. SNAP! The fan spread open once again when Li Yundong tossed it forward.

    The fan spun around the rooftop like a huge chakram. It took Ruan Hongling a few seconds, but she eventually realized that the spinning fan was following the movements of Li Yundong's eyes—he was controlling the fan mentally.

    Li Yundong's hand shot out again. The fan stopped in its flight path and did a complete one-eighty. It was now flying back to Li Yundong's hand. SNAP! The fan closed moments before it reached Li Yundong's hand. Li Yundong caught the fan's rivet and then—SNAP!—spread it open again. He leaped into the air, then swung the open fan in a wide arc. A strong gust of wind swirled around the rooftop.

    Ruan Hongling doubted Li Yundong had used his full strength in that swing. If he used his Qi and the Jindan's Aura, he could probably generate a mini hurricane.

    Li Yundong landed on the floor with a heavy thud. SNAP! The fan closed up.

    Then Ruan Hongling saw this look in his eyes: the intensity; the sharp focus. It was like nothing else existed in his world at that moment. He was looking at something intensely, some imaginary opponent that only he could see. He cocked his arm—the one carrying the fan—backwards and then launched the fan forward like a spear. SNAP! The fan spread open and spun forward in a straight line. Li Yundong charged forward as though he was chasing after the fan. Suddenly, he ducked and got into a low crouch, from which he launched an upward kick. SWISH! ZING! The spinning fan streak over the top of Li Yundong's body moments after he launched the upward kick.

    Ruan Hongling soon realized that none of these movements were random—they formed a combo. The upward kick was no doubt a follow-up strike to the first attack—the fan toss. If his opponent ducked the fan toss, the upward kick from below would've sent his opponent into the air. Nobody can duck a projectile while in the air (unless they can fly), so he reversed the spinning fan's motion, getting it to fly backwards and then slice his opponent's body in half. It was genius.

    Something else was happening.

    Whoa... What kind of move is that?

    Ruan Hongling stepped forward to take a closer look.

    Li Yundong was now holding the fan by its rivet. The fan snapped close. Then, he swung the fan above his head with both hands, like a Bo staff. And then…

    Ruan Hongling nearly laughed.  

    What is he even doing?

    Li Yundong turned around and leaped into the air.

    That idiot was leaving his back wide open for attack—

    SNAP!

    Li Yundong twisted his upper body around, and then thrusted the fan backwards in a downward stab. The fan spread open the instant his arm was fully extended.

    SNAP! The fan closed when Li Yundong's feet slammed into the floor.

    Ruan Hongling was stunned. Li Yundong had just applied one of the most brilliant strategies expounded in Sun Tzu's Art of War—retreat, get your opponent to chase after you, and then attack when your opponent least expects it. The same strategy was adopted in martial arts technique such as the retreating horse stab and the art of the dragging knife. By deliberately exposing his back, Li Yundong could lure the enemy to attack his back, and then take his enemy off-guard by parrying and striking with the fan at the same time.

    Ruan Hongling shook her head in amazement. She honestly had no idea what to make of the guy. He was a genius. No, he was a freak of nature. Nobody could be that good, especially not someone who, just two months ago, knew close to nothing about Cultivation and martial arts.

    Li Yundong was now doing a series of fancy moves, spinning the fan around before tossing it into the air.

    Ruan Hongling snorted and looked away. Now he's just showing off and playing around—

    A loud yelp drew Ruan Hongling's attention back to Li Yundong, who was now fumbling around trying to catch the fan from the air. He swiped at the fan. "Argh! Shit!"

    He missed, and the fan ended up bouncing off the top of his head. The fan crashed into the floor with a loud clatter.

    "PFFT! HAHAHA..." Ruan Hongling burst into laughter, then quickly slapped her hands over her mouth.

    Too late. Li Yundong was now glaring daggers at her.

    "What are you doing here?" Li Yundong asked in a not-so-friendly tone.

    Ruan Hongling ignored his question and approached him slowly. "When did you become so good with it?" She nodded at the fan.

    Li Yundong shrugged and picked up the fan from the floor.

    "Did Elder Sister Zi Yuan teach you some new moves after I left?" She'd returned back to her apartment last night after she got bored watching Elder Sister Zi Yuan teach Li Yundong how to use the fan.

    "Nope," Li Yundong said, shaking his head.

    Ruan Hongling could feel her own eyes growing wide. "Then where did you learn all those moves?"

    Li Yundong looked at her strangely. "All that stuff? Well. I was playing around with the fan after Zi Yuan left, so I figured why not come up with a few moves of my own."

    "Y- You came up with those moves?!"

    Was he bragging? Hah! He must be. How could he possibly come up with his own moves in just a day? Nobody was that good.

    Unless he is a genius... or a freak of nature, a small voice inside her mind added.

    Green light filled the rooftop. Ruan Hongling glanced to her right and saw Elder Sister Zi Yuan standing near the rooftop's ledge. Ruan Hongling ran towards Elder Sister Zi Yuan and grabbed her arm. "Elder Sister Zi Yuan..." Ruan Hongling pointed at Li Yundong. "Just now... h- he... he..."

    He what? What was she even trying to tell Elder Sister Zi Yuan? That Li Yundong had just come up with a few new moves? That Li Yundong was going to surpass Ruan Hongling and soon replace her as Elder Sister Zi Yuan's protégé?

    "What on earth is the matter with you, Hongling?" Zi Yuan looked at her strangely. "And what took you so long?"

    Ruan Hongling pouted and crossed her arms. "It's nothing. Why don't you ask him?" She pointed at Li Yundong again.

    Damn it! I'm going to train harder! I can't let him be better than me!

    "What's going on here, Li Yundong?" Elder Sister Zi Yuan asked.

    "Oh. It's nothing," Li Yundong said. "I was just playing around with the fan, that's all."

    Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. You call that playing around?

    "Haven't I told you to obey the natural order," Elder Sister Zi Yuan said in a reprimanding tone. "Sleep when it's time to sleep. Following the natural order is an important part of Cultivation."

    Li Yundong chuckled wryly. "Ah. But you forgot something very important last night."

    Ruan Hongling stole a glance at Elder Sister Zi Yuan and noted the frown on her Elder Sister's face.

    "What do you mean?" Elder Sister Zi Yuan asked.

    Li Yundong sighed and lowered the Fan of the Seven Treasures to the floor. "You forgot to think like a normal human being."

    Annoyance flared through Ruan Hongling. "What are you even talking about?" she snapped. How dare he insult Elder Sister Zi Yuan after all the trouble she'd gone through to teach him? That insolent bastard!

    Li Yundong gave her a look. "Seriously?"

    Ruan Hongling growled. "What—"

    "I can't fly, remember? Neither of you thought to come back and take me back to my apartment?" Li Yundong rolled his eyes, then pointed at the door at the rooftop. "The door is locked. So I couldn't walk down. And even if it wasn't locked, it wasn't like I could drag this bulky thing"—He pointed at the fan—"all the way down the stairs."

    Oh... Ruan Hongling glanced sideways and found Elder Sister Zi Yuan staring back at her as well.

    Good God... Elder Sister Zi Yuan actually looked sheepish. Ruan Hongling had never seen that look on her mentor before.

    "So yeah, geniuses... I was left here for the whole night with the Fan of Seven Treasures. So I did what I could to make the best use of my time. Practice."

    "Pffft!!! Hahaha!" Ruan Hongling cracked up.

    This was probably the silliest thing Elder Sister Zi Yuan had ever done in years. Seconds later, Elder Sister Zi Yuan turned away from her. Ruan Hongling could've sworn she saw Elder Sister Zi Yuan's shoulder trembling.

    "Oh, yeah. Keep laughing, eh? You're not the ones who got trapped up here all night," Li Yundong grumbled.

    A while later, Elder Sister Zi Yuan cleared her throat. "Let's get you back to your apartment, then. You must be tired. Besides, I have a few things to discuss with you."

    Ruan Hongling stared at Elder Sister for a moment. So she's going to tell him about bringing him to place already? Ruan Hongling looked towards Li Yundong. Yeah. Good luck surviving that, pal... You're gonna need it.

    ***

    "Face the east side," Zi Yuan said once they were inside Li Yundong's apartment.

    Li Yundong paused on his way to the bedroom. "What?"

    "Sit down and face the east. It's the hour of the Dragon now. Your body's Yang Qi should be thriving. You'll feel refreshed after a few minutes of Qi-control training."

    Li Yundong nodded and padded back to the center of the living room. He sat down with his legs crossed and angled his body eastward. Once Li Yundong's eyes slid shut, Zi Yuan gave Hongling an eye signal. Hongling nodded, and they both slipped quietly to the balcony and left the apartment.

    Zi Yuan and Hongling returned to Li Yundong's apartment around noon. Li Yundong was still in the same pose with his eyes closed when they entered the living room, so they sat down on the couch and waited for him to rouse.

    Twenty minutes later, Li Yundong stirred.

    "Oh. Hey, you guys are here," he said.

    Zi Yuan sneaked a glance at her protégé, who seemed rather sullen ever since she asked her to check on Li Yundong this morning. She wondered what was that about. Did those two get into a quarrel again?

    "What's wrong?" Li Yundong asked again.

    Zi Yuan gave him a smile. "It's nothing."

    "You're both staring at me like I did something strange..."

    "You are blessed with a rare form of Adolescent Yang Qi," Zi Yuan remarked. "And you also have the Jindan's Aura inside you." Zi Yuan regarded him steadily. "You should make treasure them and put them to good use. These traits are hard to come by."

    "Oh, thanks—" Li Yundong paused mid-sentence. He was looking at something. Zi Yuan followed his gaze and saw what he was staring at: the plastic bag containing Li Yundong's lunch that Hongling had left on the coffee table earlier. Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Damn. You guys brought my lunch again? I'm sorry to always trouble you guys..."

    Zi Yuan smiled. "Don't mention it."

    "Thank you," Li Yundong said earnestly. "I really appreciate it."

    Hongling snorted. "Wait what? I think I might have misheard you. Did you just express your appreciation?"

    Zi Yuan sighed inwardly. What was it with Hongling and Li Yundong. Honestly.

    However, Li Yundong didn't argue back this time. Instead, he began removing the containers from the plastic bag. Zi Yuan had a feeling that things had changed ever since Li Yundong returned the damask to them. Li Yundong had begun treating her and Hongling with less hostility. Sometimes, Zi Yuan even felt as though Li Yundong revered and respected her.

    "Hey, by the way, have you guys eaten?"

    Li Yundong's voice brought Zi Yuan out of her thoughts. Li Yundong was staring back at her, his chopsticks hovering inches away from his mouth.

    "So now you're worried about us." Hongling snorted. "And we're starving by the way.

    Zi Yuan shot Hongling a reprimanding look. "Don't listen to her," Zi Yuan said without taking her eyes off Hongling. "We ate this morning."

    "But it's already past noon now," Li Yundong said with a sigh, then set down his chopsticks. "You guys must be hungry already." Suddenly, Li Yundong stood up. "You guys stay here. I'm going out for a moment. I'll be back soon." He turned around and walked towards the door. When he reached the doorway, he paused and turned back around. "By the way, do you mind using the door when you come here next time? Please stop flying in and out of my apartment through the balcony." Li Yundong's face scrunched up. "It makes you two look like a bunch of..." He did some weird gesture with his hands. "... I don't know... Flying thieves."

    After that, he turned around and left the apartment.

    "Did you hear that, Elder Sister Zi Yuan?!" Hongling growled. "He just insulted us! Thieves! He called us flying thieves!"

    Zi Yuan chuckled. "I don't think he meant it quite literally, Hongling."

    Hongling huffed. "Where do you reckon he's going anyway?"

    Zi Yuan smiled at Hongling. "Why ask me when you already know the answer?"

    Hongling grinned and then opened her mouth to speak, but her mouth clicked shut when a loud ringtone sounded.

    "Oh, hey, it's his phone." Hongling picked up Li Yundong's phone from the coffee table.

    When Hongling turned the phone around and showed Zi Yuan the screen, Zi Yuan caught a glimpse of the caller ID: Princess

     

     

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  • Chapter 163 Su Chan's Dilemma

    Su Chan paced back and forth in the room. Come on... Pick up... Pick up... Pick up...

    Master would be back soon, so she didn't have much time left to talk to Yundong. Probably ten minutes give or take.

    "The number you have dialed is unavailable. Please leave a message after the—" Grr! Su Chan lowered the phone and bit her lip. Had she pressed the wrong buttons? Maybe she had pressed the wrong buttons. That had to be it. These buttons were way too tiny. Su Chan flipped the phone over and tried again, thumbing each button carefully. Once she was sure she had gotten the sequence correct, she pressed the green button.

    The phone trembled slightly when she raised it to her ear. It rang, rang, and rang—

    CLICK!

    Su Chan's heart soared. Yayyy!!!

    "Helloooooooo!!!! Beloved! Guess who is calling?"

    Silence.

    Hmm? Maybe he was too surprised to hear her voice that he got tongue-tied? Su Chan giggled into the phone. "Hehehe... Don't tell me you've forgotten my voice already? It's me! Your little cheap monk!"

    Then, Su Chan's blood ran cold.

    She heard a laugh. A feminine laugh.

    Su Chan hands dropped limply to her sides. The phone slipped from her grip and fell to the carpeted floor with thud.

    H- He's replaced me... He's found… a n-new lover... He's abandoned me...

    Su Chan thought back to the voice she'd heard over the phone. Who was that girl? Zi Yuan? Ruan Hongling? But no, that voice didn't sound like either of them. Besides, why would Zi Yuan or Ruan Hongling have Yundong's phone?

    Maybe Yundong left his phone at the motel and someone else had it now? Maybe it was one of those girls with the strange uniforms, the ones pushing those large trolleys around the motel every morning? Maybe—

    CLACK!

    "Chan'er!! Where are you?"

    Uh-oh! Master's back! Master's back! Argh!

    Su Chan scrambled for the phone on the floor and then stuffed it under her pillow. Then, she jumped onto the bed and lay down with her back facing the door.

    Yundong wouldn't just replace me, would he? No, no, no... Yundong is the nicest... the most loyal... and... and... Su Chan's shoulders began to tremble. B- But... what if he really doesn't want me anymore? What if he got tired of my absence and then... and then he...

    A sob escaped Su Chan's lips. She bit her bottom lip to stifle another one.

    The door opened. "Chan'er? Are you—" Master paused mid-sentence.

    Su Chan bit her lip harder and endured the sting in her eyes. Seconds later, she heard Master's dejected sigh.

    "You're thinking about him again, aren't you, Chan'er?"

    Su Chan decided to abandon all pretense right then. She turned around on the bed and faced her master, teary face and all. "Can I go see him, Master? Please? Chan'er misses him, Master... Let me go see him..."

    "No..." The coldness in Master's voice made Su Chan flinch. "Absolutely not! He will fail the Zhuji phase if you go back now, do you understand? He will fail. And then he will die! Do you really want that?"

    Su Chan let her shoulder sag, then shook her head weakly.

    Master was already stepping out of the door. "Remember that he only has one chance left, Chan'er. One chance."

    The door slammed shut a second later.

    ***

    The entire apartment screamed "weird vibes" when Li Yundong walked in. He paused at the doorway with bags of groceries hanging from his hands. Ruan Hongling was on the couch, scowling. Zi Yuan was leaning her back against the sliding door with her eyes closed.

    "What happened?" Li Yundong asked. He looked from Zi Yuan to Ruan Hongling, then back to Zi Yuan again.

    Nobody answered.

    Okay...? This was awkward. Li Yundong cleared his throat loudly and moved from the doorway into the living room.

    "Well! So, um… I know we got off on the wrong foot, but you two have been so helpful to me for the past few days. I figured I'd repay you with a meal. Plus, you guys haven't had your lunch yet, so..." He shrugged.

    Zi Yuan opened her eyes and smiled at him. "You're too kind."

    Li Yundong returned her smile. "Nah. It's no big deal," he said casually. "It doesn't feel right to let you two watch me eat anyway."

    Ruan Hongling shot him a skeptical look. "You know how to cook?" Then, her expression turned suspicious. "You're not trying to poison us, are you?"

    Li Yundong rolled his eyes. Annoying girl. "I guess you'll see." Li Yundong padded into the kitchen. "Make yourself at home. I won't be long!"

    ***

    "Need a hand?"

    Li Yundong looked up from the chopping board at the sound of Zi Yuan's voice.

    Li Yundong smiled. "Nah. It's okay. Girls should avoid the kitchen at all costs."

    Zi Yuan gave him an amused look. "Why?"

    Li Yundong shrugged. "Well, all the smoke and..." He cleared his throat. "And… you know, the oil... Might ruin your skin..."

    Li Yundong dropped the knife and turned away from the counter.

    I miss her... God I miss her so much...

    F*ck! Why didn't he chop onions instead of... of... Shit, what the heck had he been chopping? He couldn't even remember. Damn it. Should've gone with onions first. At least he could use the onions as an excuse for his tears.

    A warm hand touched his shoulder a second later.

    "Are you okay?"

    Li Yundong turned and saw Zi Yuan's concerned expression.

    "I'm fine," he said, then sniffed. "I just..."

    "You miss her," Zi Yuan said.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Yeah..." Suddenly he smiled. "I told her the same thing I told you earlier." He chuckled. "I mean, about why women shouldn't spend so much time in the kitchen."

    And then his princess totally ignored him and ended up blowing up the kitchen. Fun times. Happy times.

    "Come on," Zi Yuan said with a warm smile. "The food's not going to prepare itself."

    Li Yundong cleared his throat and turned back to the chopping board. When he picked up the knife, he saw Zi Yuan removing a second chopping board from the cabinet.

    "You can cook?" Li Yundong asked.

    In hindsight, he should've asked in a less skeptical tone.

    Zi Yuan didn't seem offended by the question—thank God. Instead, she smiled and lay the chopping board on the counter.

    "A little bit, I guess."

    There was a loud, haughty snort.

    Li Yundong looked up to see Ruan Hongling leaning against the door jamb of the kitchen.

    "I'll have you know that Elder Sister Zi Yuan cooks really well. I bet her skills are way better than yours!"

    "Really?" Li Yundong's gaze snapped towards Zi Yuan. "Wow. I didn't know."

    Truth be told, Li Yundong thought Zi Yuan was the rich, pampered type. At least that was his first impression of her. Then again, he knew close to nothing about Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling's lives. So there was that.  

    "Ignore her," Zi Yuan said. "I only know how to make a few simple dishes, that's all."

    Li Yundong lowered his gaze and studied the way Zi Yuan was slicing a piece of carrot like she'd been doing it for decades.

    "Uh-huh..." he said.

    Zi Yuan kept slicing and dicing the carrot. She didn't even look up from the chopping board. "No, really. I used to stay alone." She shrugged. "A girl has to eat in order to survive, you know?"

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Fine. How about this, then? Why don't I make two of my signature dishes, and you do the same? Deal?"

    Zi Yuan stopped her knife work and looked up from the chopping board. She held Li Yundong's gaze for a moment, and then smiled confidently. "Deal."

    Ruan Hongling clapped her hands together. "Yes! Woohoo! Looks like I've got a chance to savor Elder Sister Zi Yuan's cooking again!"

    "Enough... Hongling. Stop being a nuisance and go outside."

    For once, Ruan Hongling didn't talk back to her mentor like a petulant child. She grinned and slipped out of the kitchen. Li Yundong stared after Ruan Hongling in shock. Maybe the girl liked Zi Yuan's cooking a lot.

    Twenty minutes later, lunch was served.

    Li Yundong went out of his way and prepared three dishes instead of two: braised carp; sweet and sour pork ribs; and finally, tomato and egg soup. True to her word, Zi Yuan prepared two simple dishes: stir-fried lotus; and stir-fried carrot slices.

    "Lucky me!" Ruan Hongling said. "It's been so long since I've had home cooking! And it smells heavenly in here!"

    "Wait, you guys don't eat home-cooked meals regularly?"

    Try as he might, Li Yundong couldn't keep the surprise out of his tone when he asked the question, to which Zi Yuan answered with a cryptic smile.

    In the end, it was Ruan Hongling who answered his question. "Elder Sister Zi Yuan's CQ is so high that food is no longer needed for survival. And I... Well... I…"

    Was Ruan Hongling blushing? Yep. She totally was.

    "I don't know how to cook. So I relied on take-outs…"

    Li Yundong laughed but then immediately masked it with a cough. He cleared his throat and picked up his chopsticks.

    "Hey... This is good!" Li Yundong said after taking a bite of Zi Yuan's stir-fried lotus. "Holy wow! This tastes amazing!!"

    Li Yundong took a few more bites.

    Zi Yuan smiled humbly. "It's okay, I guess."

    Li Yundong opened his mouth to say something, but then he was cut off by Ruan Hongling's shrill voice.

    "Delicious!!!" Ruan Hongling turned to Zi Yuan. "Here, have some of this fish, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!"

    Li Yundong watched Ruan Hongling place a piece of the braised carp he'd made into Zi Yuan's bowl. He smirked. Who's trying to poison whom now?

    Zi Yuan picked up her chopsticks and took a bite of the fish while Li Yundong waited with bated breath for Zi Yuan's reaction. A tiny smile formed on Zi Yuan's lips. "It's really good."

    Li Yundong smirked. Well. He never doubted that for a second. Ruan Hongling's nearly-full bowl—let's not forget his daily "food wars" with Su Chan—pretty much told him everything he needed to know about his culinary skills.

    After that, the meal went on in companionable silence, which was quite a surprise considering that they had tried to kill each other not a few days ago.

    Perhaps food was the solution to world peace.

    Minutes later, Li Yundong could feel Ruan Hongling's eyes on him. He looked up from his bowl and saw Ruan Hongling studying him curiously.

    Li Yundong raised a brow, then smirked. "What's the matter? You look like you wanna eat me up."

    Ruan Hongling sniggered. "Oh, trust me. I don't wanna eat you up." Then, Ruan Hongling's eyes darted to Zi Yuan. "But somebody does."

    Li Yundong glanced towards Zi Yuan, who was now blushing to the tip of her ears.

    Some sort of scuffle sounded under the table.

    "Ow! Why'd you kick me, Elder Sister Zi Yuan!" Ruan Hongling pouted, reaching down under the table.

    Li Yundong shot Zi Yuan another questioning look, but the woman wasn't even looking at him. She was glaring at Ruan Hongling as though she wanted to skin her protégé alive.

    "Um, what are you guys—" Li Yundong stopped talking when he heard the sound of a familiar ringtone.

    Su Chan. It was Su Chan's ringtone.

    He was out of his seat in a second, charging towards the couch like a madman. He grabbed the phone from the couch and hit the answer key almost immediately.

    "P- Princess?"

    His heart sank to the bottom of his stomach when the first thing he heard was Su Chan's wails.

    "How could you!!! How could you abandon me...!!!"

    Just like that, Li Yundong felt as though his world had shattered into a million pieces.


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  • Chapter 164 The Little Fox's Training

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa... Slow down, princess," Li Yundong said. "What happened?" He opened the sliding door and stepped outside.

    Su Chan was still crying on the phone. "Have you r-replaced me already?"

    "Replace—" Li Yundong didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. "What are you even talking about, princess?"

    Su Chan cried even harder. "You've abandoned me for someone else, haven't you? You were with some... some other women."

    Li Yundong sighed. "Don't be silly, princess. Of course I haven't abandoned you. That's not even possible, for God's sake. In fact, I missed you like crazy!" And let's not forget broke down in tears in front of Zi Yuan because I remembered something I told you. Not that he would ever tell Su Chan that.

    Su Chan's sobs turned into snivels. "B-But women flock to you, Yundong. Y-You're basically surrounded by beautiful women! What if you become attracted to one of them a-and..."

    Li Yundong laughed out loud, relieved to learn the cause of Su Chan's emotional breakdown—unfounded jealousy.

    "Never thought I'd see my little princess so jealous..." he said in between laughs.

    Su Chan sniffed and then made some kind of whiny sound. "Meanie, meanie, meanie! Stop laughing and answer the question!"

    Li Yundong smiled even though he knew Su Chan couldn't see him. "Don't be silly, princess. I told you I only have eyes for you."

    "But—"

    "Yes, it's true that I'm surrounded by beautiful women. But..." Li Yundong paused for a few seconds. He couldn't hear Su Chan's breathing over the phone, so he knew she was probably waiting with bated breath for what he was about to say. Li Yundong smiled again. "But none of them were you."

    There was a long silence.

    "Princess?"

    "But why?"

    Li Yundong frowned. "Why what?"

    "Why aren't you falling for those women? They're beautiful... and nice... kind... And I..."

    Li Yundong gripped the phone tighter. "You what?"

    Su Chan sniffed and blew her nose. "I'm just a cheap monk."

    There was a brief pause, after which Li Yundong burst into laughter.

    Su Chan made that whiny noise again—something between a grumble and a sob.

    Li Yundong stopped laughing. "Why do you keep comparing yourself to other women? I mean, come on. You win hands down. My princess is the best—"

    "At least they're human..."

    Li Yundong's heart stopped for a second.

    "And I..." Su Chan sniffed. "I'm just a fox spirit..."

    Li Yundong's gripped the railing with one hand. Moments later, he sighed. "I don't know how to convince you, Su Chan."

    Su Chan's persistent sniffs could be heard on the other end of the line.

    "You asked me why I chose you," Li Yundong said, then chuckled. "Well, the answer really isn't that complicated." Li Yundong released his grip on the railing and ran his hand through his hair. "I chose you because you chose me first." Li Yundong paused to let his words sink in. "You never abandoned me from the start, even when I was just a useless nobody. So I would never"—He injected as much vehemence as possible into his voice—"ever abandon you. You got that?"

    "Mmm..." Su Chan said. "Okay..."

    Li Yundong sighed in relief. "So are we good?"

    "Mmm!"

    "Um… Can I ask what brought this on?"

    A brief silence passed before Su Chan spoke in a grumpy tone.

    "I called earlier, but someone else picked up." Another pause. "A woman."

    Li Yundong frowned. "What?! But..." The penny dropped. He turned away from the railing and stared into the apartment through the sliding door. Ruan Hongling was staring back at him from the dining table, but then quickly averted her gaze when she saw him watching her.

    That little… Li Yundong clenched his jaw tightly.

    "I went out to get some groceries earlier," he said, glaring in Ruan Hongling's direction. "And I didn't bring my phone with me."

    "But some woman picked up!" Su Chan grumbled.

    Li Yundong wondered if she was pouting. She definitely sounded like she was pouting.

    "Uh-huh... What did she say?" Li Yundong said, still glaring at Ruan Hongling.

    "She didn't say anything. Just laughed."

    Anger rose inside Li Yundong. I'll deal with her later...

    "You have nothing to worry about, princess. I wasn't even there when my phone rang. Someone else picked up my phone. And I think I know who it is."

    "Who?" Su Chan sounded puzzled, though he could still detect a hint of wariness in her voice.

    "It was probably Ruan Hongling," Li Yundong said, then chuckled. "I think you totally got pranked, princess."

    "Oh." There was a long pause. "Wait! You said you went out to get groceries."

    "Yep. I did." Where was she going with this?

    "Then... You cooked something for Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling, didn't you?"

    Realization washed over Li Yundong, and he laughed. "Bravo! My princess is so clever! Yep! You've guessed right."

    "Hmph! I... I wanna taste your cooking too! I'm soooo hungry!"

    Yep. That little chipmunk was definitely pouting.

    Li Yundong chuckled. "Don't worry, princess. I'll cook for you every day once all this is over, okay?"

    "Really, really, really? Promise?"

    Li Yundong smiled. "Yep! I promise."

    "Pinky!!!"

    Li Yundong laughed out loud. "What?"

    "Pinky, pinky!!!" Su Chan whined. "Hold out your pinky! Let's make a pinky promise."

    Li Yundong gripped the railing with one hand and laughed even harder.

    "Grr!!! Meanie! Stop laughing and hold out your pinky!"

    Li Yundong grinned and held out his pinky in front of him.

    "There. Done."

    God, this was stupid. And yet it felt so right.

    ***

    Ao Wushuang leaned her back against the wall beside Chan'er's door. Seconds later, Chan'er's giggles sounded through the closed door. Ao Wushuang shook her head wryly. She'd had her suspicions for days. Today, she decided to confirm her suspicions by sneaking in without Chan'er knowing it.

    "Fineee... I trust you, Yundong..." Chan'er whined. "Oooh, by the way, you should learn all you can from Zi Yuan... Mmhmm! Mmhmm! Master has a lot of good things to say about her... Yep! Yep! Well, she comes from a prominent Cultivation school, so she can teach you better than I ever could..."

    Chan'er giggled again. "Hehehe... But I feel like all I did was cause you more trouble..."

    "Well... You got that right," Ao Wushuang muttered under her breath.

    "Yundong... I miss you..."

    Alright. Enough of that. Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes and pushed herself away the wall. Then, she begun to make a bunch random noises around the hotel suite.

    Chan'er's squeak sounded from inside the room.

    "Uh-oh! Master's back! Master's back! I have to go, Yundong."

    Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes and rapped the door's surface with her knuckles.

    "Chan'er?! I'm coming in!"

    Ao Wushuang pushed the door open and entered the room.

    Chan'er was sitting on the bed, staring back at her with round, innocent eyes. Amusement crept into Ao Wushuang. How stupid does this girl think I am?

    Ao Wushuang headed straight towards the bed, then stopped in front of Chan'er.

    Chan'er beamed at Ao Wushuang as though she was happy to see her. "Yay!!! Master!!! You're back!" She even threw her hands in the air.

    Ao Wushuang smirked and ignored Chan'er's feigned excitement. Instead, she held out her hand with her palm facing upwards.

    Chan'er stared up at her quizzically. "Master?"

    Uh-huh… Keep pretending, Chan'er…

    "Mm-hmm..." Ao Wushuang jerked her palm.

    Chan'er tilted her head sideways, then blinked her eyes innocently. "What?"

    "Hand it over..." Ao Wushuang jerked her palm again.

    Chan'er flinched. "H-Hand what over…?"

    "Stop playing dumb, Chan'er," Ao Wushuang said harshly. "The phone! Now!"

    A huge pout formed on Chan'er's lips as she crawled from the edge of the bed towards a pillow. Then, from under the pillow, Chan'er removed a sleek, black phone. Where did she even get that thing? Must have gotten it from Li Yundong.

    Ao Wushuang snatched the phone from Chan'er's hand. "Not bad," she grumbled. "A few months in the mortal world, and you can even use a cell phone now."

    Chan'er lowered her gaze guiltily and began toying with an invisible lint on her sleeve.

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "Sometime I wonder if you love him at all, Chan'er..."

    Chan'er's head shot up. "What! How could you say that, Master? Of course I love him!"

    "Then why do you keep doing things to sabotage his training?" Ao Wushuang snapped. "Do you know what you're doing right now, Chan'er? You're putting his life at risk! No more contact with him. I mean it!"

    Chan'er lowered her head again.

    "T- Then... When am I allowed to contact him again, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "At least wait until he survived the divine punishment, okay? If he's as good as you claimed, then it shouldn’t take long."

    "Oh." Chan'er lowered her head again. After a while, Ao Wushuang felt a tug on her hand. She glanced down and met Chan'er's piteous eyes.

    "But... Master... How am I gonna know that he's survived the punishment if I don't contact him?"

    Ao Wushuang felt an urge to pull her own hair. "Oh, for God's sake, Chan'er! You're a three-tailed fox spirit! Why are you acting like some..." Ao Wushuang's face twisted in distaste. "…some clueless newbie Cultivator who asks a bunch of silly questions? Don't you think that everyone in the Cultivation world will know when the divine punishment comes? Honestly, Chan'er. Have you forgotten everything I taught you?"

    Chan'er opened her mouth, but Ao Wushuang immediately silenced her with a glare.

    "S-Sorry, Master."

    For minutes, Ao Wushuang stared at Chan'er and studied her behavior. One thing did strike Ao Wushuang as odd: the way Chan'er's eyes moved about in her sockets like she was thinking hard about something.

    Ao Wushuang narrowed her eyes. What are you up to, Chan'er...

    After a while, Chan'er seemed to have noticed Ao Wushuang's gaze on her. She looked up and smiled at Ao Wushuang innocently. "What is it, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang shook her head. I'll have to keep a closer eye on her to make sure she doesn't do anything silly.

    Ao Wushuang produced the train ticket she'd purchased at the station earlier. "Come on, let's go."

    Chan'er took the ticket obediently, then glanced at it.

    "Hmm?" Chan'er looked up from the ticket and stared quizzically at Ao Wushuang. "Why are we going to Dongwu City, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang resisted the urge to smack Chan'er upside her head. "Don't you have any desire for self-improvement at all?" Ao Wushuang released a sigh of frustration. Oh, Heavens help me with this child…

    Chan'er had the decency to look sheepish. "Hehehe…"

    Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. "How on earth did the Fox Zen School produce a disciple like you?" Ao Wushuang glared at her disciple. "Gosh. You're like the black sheep of our school!"

    Chan'er blushed adorably. "S-Sorry, Master..."

    Ao Wushuang arched her brows. "Are you going to sit back and watch your lover grow as a Cultivator and abandon your own training? Is that it?" Ao Wushuang shook a finger in front of Chan'er's face. "You mark my words, Chan'er. With your current abilities?" Ao Wushuang snorted. "You're just going to end up as a burden to your lover in the future."

    Apparently, that did the trick as Chan'er's head suddenly shot up.

    "When do we leave! When do we leave!"

    "Tsk! Just check the ticket, dummy!"

    "Oh." Chan'er blushed and glanced down at the ticket.

    Ao Wushuang chuckled wryly. Love really does make you stupid...

    "But why Dongwu City, Master?"

    Ao Wushuang sighed. "Well, it's an ancient city with thousands of years of history. And it's got a beautiful view with clear waters and impressive mountain ranges... It's a peaceful place. All in all a good place to Cultivate."

    "But why not go back to the mountains..."

    Ao Wushuang snorted, then gave Chan'er a dry look. "Yeah. Like that's going to benefit your training."

    Chan'er seemed puzzled. "But why not? I've been training inside the mountains since I was young!"

    "Uh-huh… But you didn't have a lover back then, did you? If I take you back to the mountains now, you'll just end up moping around and crying like a baby because you miss your beloved too much."

    Chan'er blushed.

    "Might as well take you to Dongwu City, where it's peaceful and quiet. You can rest easy knowing that your beloved isn't too far from you. That way you can focus on your training."

    "Mmm! You're so wise, Master!" Chan'er paused. "But... Can I… umm…"

    Ao Wushuang rolled her eyes. "Out with it! Geez."

    "Can I… tell Yundong where we're going?"

    This insolent little... Ao Wushuang glared at Chan'er. However, her anger dissipated instantly when she saw the hopeful look in Chan'er's teary eyes.

    Ao Wushuang sighed and rubbed her temples. "Don't worry about that, okay? He'll know where we are once he survived the Heavenly Thunder. I promise."

    "Master..."

    Ao Wushuang suppressed a groan. She stopped rubbing her temples and stared into Chan'er's puzzled eyes. "What is it this time?"

    "W-Why are we using a train... C- Can't we just fly?"

    Ao Wushuang pointed out the window towards the sky, where heavy storm clouds swirled. "Are you an idiot? You want to fly in this kind of weather? Do you want to be struck by lightning?"

    Chan'er smiled sheepishly, then mumbled, "Hehehe… Right… I forgot..."

    Ao Wushuang glared at her for a moment.

    "You know what? I'm starting to think that you're trying to piss me off on purpose and then run off to your beloved when I kick you out."

    A solid weight rammed into Ao Wushuang's chest as Chan'er threw her arms around her. "Mmmm... Master... Chan'er wouldn't dare..." Chan'er rubbed her face against Ao Wushuang's chest. "Master is the nicest! I'm staying with you!"

    Ao Wushuang's heart melted right then and there. She patted Chan'er's head affectionately and felt every ounce of her annoyance melt away. After a while, she sighed and smacked Chan'er's shoulder. "Start packing or we're going to miss the train."

    "Yes, Master!" Chan'er leaped off the bed and began scrambling around the room for her things. Suddenly, Chan'er stopped and turned around to face her. "Master... I'm hungry."

    Ao Wushuang burst into laughter and walked out of the room. Moments later, Ao Wushuang tossed a plastic bag at Chan'er. "Here. Have some of this."

    Chan'er opened the bag and peered inside. Seconds later, Chan'er looked up from the bag. "Shaobing?" Chan'er looked utterly crestfallen. "But they're cold..."

    That insolent and ungrateful little…

    "Hey! I made that for you!" Ao Wushuang snapped.

    The crestfallen look never left Chan'er's face as she kept peering into the bag. She looked like someone who'd been expecting to see diamond but got a bunch of dull pebbles instead.

    "Fine!" Ao Wushuang growled. "Give it back then..."

    Ao Wushuang reached for the bag, but Chan'er hugged the bag to her chest like it was some kind of prized possession.

    Ao Wushuang snorted and lowered her hand. "Now you want it," she muttered.

    Chan'er reached into the bag and took out a piece of Shaobing. Then, she took a huge bite.

    Ao Wushuang winced when she caught Chan'er rubbing her cheeks as though she had a toothache. In hindsight, she should've warmed up the damn thing. At least that would soften if up a little—

    "Yundong's cooking still tastes better..." Chan'er said around a mouthful of Shaobing.

    Argh! That does it!

    Ao Wushuang growled and reached for the bag. "Stupid, ungrateful disciple!"

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  • Chapter 165 The Trial Begins

    Li Yundong stormed into apartment. Seconds later, he stopped in front of the dining table and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

    "You picked up my phone, didn't you?" Li Yundong said, glaring at Ruan Hongling.

    Ruan Hongling slapped the table defiantly. "Fine! Yes! It was me! So what?"

    Li Yundong gave Ruan Hongling an incredulous look. "My phone is private! You have no right to go through it!"

    A loud clack sounded when Ruan Hongling stood up from her chair abruptly. "I did it for your own good!"

    "For my own—" Li Yundong's mouth snapped shut. Shaking his head, he stared down at Ruan Hongling in incredulity. For his own good? How could any person be this self-righteous?

    "Yeah! That's right! For your own good!" Ruan Hongling yelled, gesturing wildly with her arms. "I didn't want you to be associated with those degenerate fox spirits and—"

    "Shut up!" Li Yundong roared, then took a deep, calming breath. Li Yundong pointed a finger at Ruan Hongling's face, which had a stunned expression. "You have no right to call her that. And whom I choose to be with is none of your goddamn business. It's my love life. Mine! So stay out of it!"

    "Fine! You think I care!" Ruan Hongling screamed. "I wouldn't even be here helping you out if Elder Sister Zi Yuan hadn't asked me." Then, Ruan Hongling pushed away from the stable and stormed off. Seconds later, he heard the loud slam of the sliding door. The balcony lit up in green, and Ruan Hongling was gone.

    Zi Yuan sighed. "I really don't understand this air of hostility between you two. I honestly thought that things would be better once you returned the damask. Looks like I was wrong."

    "I've been tolerant with her," Li Yundong growled. "Forget that she nearly killed Su Chan. Now she's going through my stuff?" He shook his head in disgust. "Who does she think she is? Didn't her parents teach her any manners at all?"

    "Hongling's parents died when she was very young." Zi Yuan sighed. "I'm the one who raised her. So you can blame me if you want."

    Li Yundong glanced at Zi Yuan and noted the sad look on the woman's face. He sighed and decided to let it drop. "Earlier, you said you had something to discuss," he said. "What is it?"

    Zi Yuan looked up from the table and stared at him.

    Li Yundong raised his brows. "Well?"

    Zi Yuan averted her gaze. "Pack your things. You'll be going on a trip."

    Li Yundong frowned. "A trip? Where to?"

    Zi Yuan looked straight into his eyes. "Tibet."

    "What?!"

    ***

    This was perhaps the most ridiculous thing Li Yundong had ever heard. Which was saying something considering he'd spent—what, a few months?—with Su Chan, who had basically turned "saying random, silly stuff" into an art form.

    "Tibet?! What the heck am I supposed to do all the way up at Tibet?"

    "To train, what else," Zi Yuan said sternly.

    "Can't I do that here?" Li Yundong spread his arms wide. "I was doing fine, wasn't I?"

    Perhaps he should show Zi Yuan all those fancy moves he came up with one more time. Surely that counted as progress?

    "Cultivators usually prefer to be on a mountain when attempting to pass the Zhuji phase," Zi Yuan said. "Do you know why?"

    Li Yundong give Zi Yuan a helpless shrug.

    Duh. Would he have reacted this way if he knew?

    "The mountain air is fresh and unpolluted," Zi Yuan explained. "Besides, the mountains are where Nature's Qi is most concentrated. You'll be able to feel Nature's power when you're on a mountain. The higher the mountain the better, of course."

    "Would that..." Li Yundong shot Zi Yuan a wary look. "Would that help increase my chances of success?"

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Of course. That's the whole point." She sighed. "The world has changed. Human activities have damaged and contaminated a lot of the world's mountains and forests. Fortunately, the mountains in Tibet are still very well-preserved. So I think it's best if you train there."

    Li Yundong pondered Zi Yuan's words for a moment. Well, if there was a way to improve his chances, he didn't see why not.

    Then reality hit him. He suddenly remembered something that would put a damper on this let's-pack-up-and-go-to-Tibet plan.

    Li Yundong sighed. "Look, this sounds like a good plan and all. But we have a huge problem."

    Zi Yuan arched a brow. "Which is?"

    Li Yundong gave her a helpless look. "I'm broke. I can't afford a trip to Tibet."

    Zi Yuan stared at him for a moment. "Are you serious right now?"

    Li Yundong sighed and lowered his gaze. "Unfortunately, yes." Then, he looked up sharply. "Unless you're planning to sponsor my trip." He deflated and let his head drop. "Which would put me in your debt again..."

    "Who says you need to pay for anything at all?" Zi Yuan asked.

    Li Yundong's head snapped back up. "Wait. You're really sponsoring for the trip? Oh, wow! Thank you! Look, I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done. Rest assured that once all of this is over, I'll—"

    Zi Yuan raised her palm. "Hold your horses," she said. "I never said I'll pay for the trip."

    Li Yundong frowned. "What? Then how?"

    Zi Yuan gave him a cryptic smile. "Nobody has to pay a single cent."

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment. "Oh!" He slapped his forehead. "Right! Of course! You can fly me there with your powers! Silly me!"

    "Nope. You're going to Tibet on your own. Without having to pay a single cent."

    Li Yundong snorted. "What do you want me to do, run all the way there?"

    Silence spread between them. Li Yundong waited for Zi Yuan to say something, but other than that cryptic smile on her face, he got nothing else.

    Horror and disbelief spread through him.

    "You're shitting me..." Li Yundong whispered. "This is a joke."

    Zi Yuan said nothing.

    Seconds later, Li Yundong chuckled. "Of course it's a joke. What am I even asking? Nobody can run from Tiannan City all the way to Tibet. I mean, that's nuts, right?" Li Yundong's smile faltered. "Right?"

    After what felt like forever, Zi Yuan's smile broadened and she broke her silence. "You know what? I think you should bring the Fan of the Seven Treasures along. The extra weight can definitely make your training much more effective."

    Forget about what he said earlier. This, was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard.

    Running all the way to Tibet. Was this chick nuts?!

    "Running is a great way to improve the concentration of your Qi," Zi Yuan continued. "Which, as I recall, is something that you're lacking. I see this as killing three birds with one stone. One, you can travel cost-free. Two, you can increase your Qi's concentration. And three, you'll be going to one of the best places to pass the Zhuji phase. See? Solving three problems at once."

    Li Yundong gaped at Zi Yuan. Nuts. This chick was definitely nuts.

    Zi Yuan sighed. "What, do you think Cultivation is an easy art to master? Well, it's not. To go against the natural order, you have to first live it. You have to experience and endure a lot of nature's tests." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "At some point, if you feel like you can no longer carry on, I want you to think of Su Chan. Think of the promise you've made to each other."

    Li Yundong nodded resolutely. "I understand." He looked into Zi Yuan's eyes. "Where should I go once I reach Tibet?"

    Zi Yuan smirked. "To the highest place in Tibet, of course."

    Li Yundong stared at Zi Yuan for a moment. Great. This chick wanted him to climb the Himalayas. No. Scratch that. She wanted him to conquer frigging Mount Everest. Right after he ran from Tiannan City to frigging Tibet.

    Li Yundong smiled wryly. "You sure I won't freeze to death before I even get to the summit?"

    Zi Yuan shook her head. "You don't really have to reach the summit. When you climb to a certain point, your body will tell you when it's time to make your attempt to pass the Zhuji phase."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Your body will react. You'll start feeling something, and you'll know." Zi Yuan raised her palm. "Don't ask me what kind of sensation you'll be feeling. I can't tell you that. All I can say is that you'll know when the time comes."

    Li Yundong took a deep breath before releasing it. "I got it. When do I leave?"

    "Tomorrow," Zi Yuan said. "So you better start packing now."

    ***

    Li Yundong stared at the contents of his backpack: a few bottles of water; a thermos; two sets of travel clothes (Zi Yuan had insisted on a more minimalist's approach to packing); some toiletries; towels; his phone and its charger; the Fan of the Seven Treasures; and some cash.

    Li Yundong's eyes lingered on the cash. Worry gnawed his insides. Several hundred yuan was far from enough to sustain the journey.

    "Worried about money?"

    Li Yundong turned around in surprise. Zi Yuan was floating into his room from the balcony.

    He sighed. "Geez. You really need to learn how to use the door. And yes, of course I'm worried about money. I'm broke, in case you haven't noticed."

    Zi Yuan landed beside his backpack and studied its contents for a moment. "Hmm. That's good enough. You have nothing to worry about."

    Li Yundong stared at the bundle of cash. "Seriously? There's only like, a couple hundred yuan…"

    "What, you're not thinking about buying food on the journey or sleeping in an inn, are you?"

    Li Yundong's eyes nearly bugged out. "Are you saying that I shouldn't be?"

    Again, there was that cryptic smile. This time, it looked more like a smirk.

    "Okay, hold on a second now. This is taking things too far! Where am I supposed to sleep? What am I supposed to eat?"

    Zi Yuan smirked. "Do you know how it was for me when I first began my training?"

    Li Yundong shook his head.

    "I had to travel for two thousand miles on foot. And I didn't have any food or money with me."

    "What! That's—But how did you even survive!"

    Zi Yuan shrugged casually. "I pretty much left it to chance, fate, or whatever you wanna call it. When I was hungry, I either asked for food, or looked for food in the mountains. When I was thirsty, I drank from the rivers and streams." Zi Yuan smiled as though she was recalling a pleasant memory. "It took me thirty-five days to reach my destination."

    "Wow... That's tough..."

    Zi Yuan raised a brow. "You call that tough? The Tibetan Buddhists had it worse, I'm telling you. They have this pilgrimage journey every year, travelling long distances on foot to reach the mountains. And guess what? Unlike you and I, these people are mortal. They are normal humans without powers or any physical enhancements. If they can do it, then so can you." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "You are the Jindan's Heir." She looked away. "If you can't even survive this little journey? You'll never be able to survive the Heavenly Thunder."

    Li Yundong pondered Zi Yuan's words in silence.

    "Like I said, Cultivation is not easy," Zi Yuan said. "It's not just about gaining magical powers. It's about building a strong will too. Mark my words, Li Yundong. A lot of times, the outcome of a battle is decided by the strength of the combatants' will."

    Li Yundong nodded and hoisted his backpack off the floor. "I understand now."

    He moved towards the door.

    "Wait," Zi Yuan said, making Li Yundong pause.

    Li Yundong smiled. "What, you got some more tips for me?"

    Zi Yuan pointed at the fan's rivet sticking out from the top of his backpack. "You should keep the Fan of Seven Treasures out of sight at all times," she said sternly. "That's one of the most valuable magical weapons that exists, do you understand? Other Cultivators will try to take it from you if you're not careful."

    Li Yundong lowered his backpack to the floor and stared at it. After a while, he ran into his bedroom and pulled out several old blankets. Then, he pulled out the fan and wrapped the blanket around it before stuffing it back into the backpack. "There," he said.

    Zi Yuan nodded. "This is important. Keep it out of sight at all times."

    "Got it."

    "Alright, then. Let me send you off to the gates."

    ***

    Fifteen minutes later, Li Yundong and Zi Yuan stood inside the gazebo near New Hongsheng District's gates. The backpack sat idly on the stone table—the one with Zi Yuan's palm print—as Li Yundong ran through his minimalist travel checklist for the nth time.

    "All set?" Zi Yuan asked.

    Li Yundong looked up from the backpack and smiled. "I guess so..." He cleared his throat. "Well, you got any more tips for me?" He sounded nervous. Hell, who was he kidding. He was about to run all the way to frigging Tibet. Of course he was nervous.

    Zi Yuan seemed to be deep in thought. Was she having second thoughts too? If she was, then, well, join the club.

    "Two things," Zi Yuan said all of a sudden.

    Li Yundong squared his shoulders. "I'm listening…"

    "First, make sure you mind your own business throughout the journey," Zi Yuan paused for a moment. "Especially after you cross Tibetan borders. Keep to yourself and minimize human contact. More importantly..." Zi Yuan gave him a pointed look. "Do not get into unnecessary fights and arguments. Your top priority is to pass the Zhuji phase. So just focus on that."

    Li Yundong nodded. "Right."

    "Two. Once you start running, do not stop."

    Li Yundong did a double take. "What? You mean like… I can't even stop to take a break?"

    Not even to take a leak? What the heck? Should he pack a few diapers?

    "No. No stops. Just keep running until your legs can't move anymore."

    Why did he get the feeling that his shoes were going to fall off at some point during the journey? You know what? Scratch that. His legs were probably going to fall off. Then again, who was he to argue with the most powerful Cultivator of the younger generation?

    Li Yundong sighed. "Right. No stops. Got it."

    Zi Yuan nodded. "Good. I'll look for you after you pass the Zhuji phase."

    Li Yundong nodded and lifted his backpack off the stone table. "Well... I'll be off then."

    Zi Yuan nodded regally. "Good luck."

    Li Yundong walked out of the gazebo, then paused after a few steps. He turned around. "Um… Thank you... For everything you've done."

    Zi Yuan smiled. "You don't have to thank me. I'm doing this for my own Cultivation training."

    Li Yundong frowned. What was that supposed to mean? Before he could ask further, Zi Yuan vanished in a flash of green light. Li Yundong sighed and walked out of the gazebo.

    The sun emerged from the eastern horizon, breaking the dawn. The birds soared across the sky, singing to welcome the morning. A new day. A new journey. A new Li Yundong.

    Tibet, here I come...

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  • Chapter 166 Interrogation

    "What really happened that night, Miss Zhou?"

    Zhou Qin raised her head and met Detective Wang's gaze from across the table. The cold, metallic walls of the interrogation room surrounded her like a prison cell. The chair under her felt hard and uncomfortable, but that probably had more to do with the fact that she'd been sitting in it for hours telling the same story over and over again.

    Zhou Qin looked past the police detective's shoulders at the large, two-way mirror carved at the center of the metallic wall. The only thing missing in this entire picture were handcuffs and shackles.

    Zhou Qin looked at Detective Wang once more. "I've already told you everything I know, haven't I?"

    The detective sighed. "Come on, Miss Zhou... I want the truth. How did He Shao really die? And where's the body?"

    Zhou Qin's smirked. "Oh? So you do believe that he's dead, then? Well. I suppose that's progress."

    Detective Wang shrugged. "We're not ruling out other possibilities, of course. It depends on what you tell us."

    Zhou Qin shrugged. "I told you the truth."

    That wasn't a lie. She did tell Detective Wang the truth—the relatively believable truths anyway. She'd left out the parts about magic, flying, the fact that Li Yundong's body was glowing the whole time, and the fact that Li Yundong had summoned a bolt of lightning from the sky.

    Unreal. It was unreal. Even to her, someone who had seen everything unfold with her own two eyes, all of it seemed unreal. It would be foolish to tell the police the whole truth, since it would further diminish the credibility of her story. No way Detective Wang would believe all that magical stuff.

    "Alright fine," Detective Wang said. "Let's just run this through from the beginning."

    Zhou Qin gave him a noncommittal shrug. She knew what the man was trying to do. He was trying to find loopholes in her story, and perhaps get her to reveal more than she intended.

    Detective Wang opened a folder on the table, then pushed a couple of photographs towards her. All the photos were taken at Shengyuan Hotel. One was a photo of her speaking with Ding Nan outside the banquet hall. Another one showed her standing beside her Audi, speaking with Li Yundong outside the gates. The rest were random shots of her having conversations with He Shao.

    Detective Wang tapped his finger on one of the photos. "We have evidence to show that you, Miss Ding Nan, and Mr. Li Yundong were the last people He Shao had had contact with before his death." Detective Wang raised his brows. "Assuming that he is dead and not kidnapped by an unknown party."

    Zhou Qin looked up from the photos. "He Shao is dead," she said in a sharp tone.

    "Then prove it. Help me understand. Explain to me how he died."

    Zhou Qin leaned against the back of her chair. Should she show them the video after all? She hadn't planned to do so, but it was starting to seem like she had no other choice.

    "Let's start with this." Detective Wang pushed another photo towards her. This one showed the curb outside Shengyuan Hotel's security booth. Probably taken by one of the surveillance cameras in front of the booth. The photo showed Zhou Qin and Li Yundong having a conversation beside her Audi.

    Detective Wang tapped his finger on the timestamp of the photo. "This was ten minutes before He Shao drove away from the hotel. And then traffic cams also showed this guy"—Detective Wang tapped his finger on Li Yundong's image—"running after He Shao's car yelling a bunch of death threats." Detective Wang removed his finger from the photo and leaned back. "So you're gonna have to try harder to help me make sense of all this, Miss Zhou. Because at this rate? Things really don't look good for you and your friend. Like I said, you two are the last people He Shao had had contact with before he disa—I mean before he died."

    "Sure. Fire away," Zhou Qin said in a casual tone. "What else do you want to know?"

    "I want more details," Detective Wang said. "As many as you can give me."

    Zhou Qin stared at the detective.

    "Start with this picture." Detective Wang pointed at the photo. "What were you and Li Yundong talking about at the time?"

    Zhou Qin studied the photo for a moment. "I was driving away from the hotel, but then I saw him and his girlfriend standing outside the gates. So I pulled over to say hi. I asked him what he was doing at the hotel. He told me he was on a job."

    "What kind of job?" Detective Wang asked.

    "He runs security for President Cao Kefei of Huasheng Studios. He was there as her bodyguard that night." Zhou Qin gave the detective a pointed look. "I'm sure President Cao can verify that."

    Detective Wang nodded and wrote something down on his notebook. "There were two other women in front of the gates. Who are they?"

    "I don't know those two women. I did ask him, but he didn't tell me."

    "But they were both with him when you arrived?"

    "Yes."

    "They were conversing? Exchanging words?"

    "Yes."

    To be exact, Li Yundong was yelling at those two women, but Zhou Qin wouldn't reveal that.

    "Did you know what they were talking about?"

    "No."

    "So you didn't manage to catch bits and pieces of their conversation?"

    "Of course not." Zhou Qin glared at the detective. "It's not my habit to eavesdrop on other people. Besides, their conversation stopped when they saw my car."

    Detective Wang studied Zhou Qin for a moment. "Okay. What happened next?"

    Zhou Qin suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. This again.

    "Look. I already told you, didn't I? After that the twins fell, and we ran into the building—"

    "In detail, Miss Zhou," Detective Wang interrupted. "I want it in full detail."

    Zhou Qin sighed. "Fine. Let me think."

    Detective Wang nodded. "Sure. Take your time."

    Zhou Qin didn't need any time; she already knew what detail to reveal to the cops. Even so, she had to act like she hadn't practiced her story in her head over and over again before she was called into the interrogation. The cops would suspect a lie if her story seemed rehearsed.

    After a while, Zhou Qin began her account of the events that night.

    "We heard a scream, and then a loud crash." Zhou Qin arched a brow. "And as you and your colleagues probably already knew from the CCTV footages, all of us ran into the building to see what happened."

    "And? What did you see?"

    "Blood. A lot of blood." That was the complete truth.

    "Mm-hmm…"

    "One of the twins... Deng Yu. Well, I couldn't tell the twins apart to be honest, but I heard Li Yundong yell her name when he ran over."

    "Ran over to where?"

    "Towards the blood and the body."

    Detective Wang nodded and flipped through a few pages in his notebook. "Li Yundong's prints were on Miss Deng Yu's body. His girlfriend's too..."

    "Well, I'm not surprised that they were." Zhou Qin arched a brow. "I mean, if you were in the same situation, wouldn't you at least try to check and see if the girl was still alive? To check for a pulse or vital signs?"

    "Of course I would," Detective Wang said distractedly. "Go on..."

    "Not long after we saw the first body, there was a second scream," Zhou Qin said, pausing for a moment. "The second twin fell off a balcony."

    Detective Wang put down his notebook and sat up straighter in his chair.

    "Ah. Now you've reached the part where I don't get," Detective Wang said, studying her face carefully. "You said that Li Yundong knew He Shao was the one responsible for the twins' deaths. But how? How could he possibly know?"

    "Come on, detective. He Shao drove away from the building just minutes after the twins fell to their deaths."

    Zhou Qin decided to leave out Li Yundong's claim about his being able to see He Shao standing on a balcony fifteen floors up.

    "Fair enough. But chasing after a car? A BMW sports car, mind you." Detective Wang gave her a skeptical look. "You expect me to buy that?"

    Zhou Qin smirked. "What can I say? He's fast."

    Detective Wang stared at her through narrowed eyes. A moment later, he leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table. "You hiding something from us, Miss Zhou. I know you are."

    Zhou Qin smiled. "I don't see what I have to hide." She crossed her legs under the table. "The way I see it? The sooner I can get out of here, the better."

    Detective Wang's eyes narrowed even further. "We know there's something special about this Li Yundong guy, Miss Zhou. We've seen the footages."

    Oh you have no idea, detective. No idea.

    Zhou Qin shrugged. "Then there's really nothing left for me to tell you, is there? You've seen the evidence of his abilities, so you already know that he's fast enough to keep up with a sports car. What else do you want from me?"

    "What I want to know is whether any of the evidence presented to us have been tampered with or fabricated." A smug expression spread across Detective Wang's face. "With your resources, I don't think it's that hard to hire a team of hackers to mess with the traffic cams."

    Zhou Qin smiled. "Is that an accusation, detective? Do I need to call my lawyer?"

  • Detective Wang's smile faltered. "Come on, Miss Zhou. A guy pulling back a BMW sports car, stopping it from moving? This is real life, not a scene from a Captain America movie. No human is capable of a feat like that."

    "What do you want me to say? He just is," Zhou Qin said in mild exasperation. She felt utterly exhausted. Plus, her mind was still reeling from everything she'd witnessed. "And why would I tamper with the traffic cams, detective? What would be the point?" Zhou Qin shook her head. "Even if I did hire a hacker to mess with it, why would I replace the real footage with something that lacks credibility? I could've just changed it to something completely normal and innocuous rather than what you saw."

    Silence fell upon the interrogation room.

    "You were there at the scene, where the wreckage of He Shao's car was found," Detective Wang said a minute later. "How did you know where to find him? Did you follow him?"

    Zhou Qin sighed. This was the part where she had to lie. She wouldn't just make stuff up, of course. She was smarter than that. She would lie using the truth.

    "Shortly after Li Yundong ran after the BMW, his girlfriend passed out in front of the hotel."

    "Why did she pass out?"

    "Shock," Zhou Qin said confidently, even though she didn't have a clue why Su Chan passed out.

    "Go on."

    "I booked a room and brought her to the room. After that, I checked my phone coz I got an email notification from the university's forum site. Someone made a post on the forum claiming that they saw Li Yundong running past the campus gates." Zhou Qin gave the detective a quick glance. "You can check the forums and also the time the post was made if you don't believe me."

    Detective Wang got up and knocked on the two-way mirror twice. Then, he walked back towards the table and sat down. "And then?"

    Zhou Qin shrugged. "I knew that if someone saw Li Yundong running past the campus, then He Shao's car must've passed by that area as well." Zhou Qin glanced at the detective briefly. "That was under the assumption that Li Yundong was chasing after He Shao's car." Zhou Qin crossed her arms in front of her chest. "By then, it became obvious to me what He Shao was up to." Zhou Qin snorted. "He was clearly driving towards the city limits so that he could leave the city. So I got into my car and drove over there as fast as I could."

    Lies. Zhou Qin didn't even know where He Shao went until that girl—one of Li Yundong's weird friends—called, asking her to bring Su Chan over to some field at the roadside as quickly as she could.

    Detective Wang flipped through his notebook again. "You told the police commissioner that, I quote, there is a loose gunman on the run, in that particular area..." Detective Wang held her gaze. "And you also told him to set up a blockade to prevent anyone from going in and out of the area for at least half an hour."

    Zhou Qin uncrossed her arms. "Yes I did."

    Detective Wang's eyes narrowed. "How did you even know that He Shao had a gun?"

    Zhou Qin suppressed a smirk. She knew this question was coming. The solution was obvious. Lie. Tell more lies. Believable lies concocted from true events.

    "When I was driving to the university, I kept checking the forums for any updates. A few students commented on the post that they heard gunshots in the area." Zhou Qin exhaled. "I knew it had to be He Shao."

    Detective Wang shot her a skeptical look. "And that's when you called? You made the call when you were driving to the scene?"

    "Yes."

    "So you weren't even there at the scene when the shots were fired," Detective Wang said.

    "Obviously."

    "And yet you deemed it necessary to pressu—" Detective Wang cleared his throat. "... to convince the commissioner to set up a blockade? There could've been witnesses to verify He Shao's supposed getaway."

    "I did what I judged to be right." Zhou Qin leveled a cold gaze at the detective. "You don't know He Shao as well as I do. That man is capable of anything when he's desperate." Zhou Qin smirked. "How can I, a responsible citizen of this country, allow innocent bystanders to get injured, or worse, killed by a loose gunman when I know I have the means and resources to prevent further casualties?"

    Satisfaction coursed through Zhou Qin when she saw the twitch on Detective Wang's eyebrows.

    "I can totally understand that if your request applied only to civilians," Detective Wang snapped. "But you told the commissioner not to allow any armed officers to enter as well."

    Zhou Qin smirked. "Yes, I did. And shouldn't you guys be thanking me?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "Do you"—Zhou Qin gave the two-way mirror a quick glance—"and your colleagues really want to be put in a position where you're forced to fire your weapons at He Shao?" Zhou Qin smirked. "Do you really think your careers would survive the wrath of the He family?"

    Detective Wang went pale.

    Zhou Qin chuckled. "Yeah. I thought as much." Zhou Qin stared pointedly at Detective Wang's pale face. "If you guys injure or kill He Shao, you'll most likely face dire consequences. But if you let him go, your reputation as cops would be ruined." Zhou Qin shrugged. "Either way, it would be the end of your careers." Zhou Qin smirked. "You're welcome, by the way."

    Detective Wang cleared his throat harshly. "You said you were in your car, heading over to wherever He Shao was going."

    "That's correct."

    "Were you armed?"

    Zhou Qin chuckled. Did these guys think she was stupid? "No I wasn't armed. It's illegal for private citizens to own firearms in this country."

    "Then what was your plan? What were you planning to do when you did catch up to him?"

    "To talk to him and convince him to turn himself in, of course." Zhou Qin smiled. "Like I said, I'm a responsible citizen."

    The detective eyed her skeptically. "But you were also an unarmed woman about to confront an armed man."

    "He knew my background." Zhou Qin crossed her arms confidently. "He wouldn't dare harm me."

    Detective Wang pulled out two more photos from his folder and slid them over towards her.

    Zhou Qin gave the photos a brief glance. Er Lu and his mother, both of whom He Shao had murdered.

    "Do you know these two victims?"

    "Not personally," Zhou Qin answered. "But I know the lady runs a vegetable stall at the market. The male victim was her son."

    "Your friend Li Yundong had a rather... shall we say... antagonistic relationship with the male victim."

    "So?"

    "That's motive for murder."

    Zhou Qin smirked. This was a trick.

    Nope. Not falling for that, pal.

    "Like I said, I don't know the male victim personally. But I did witness Li Yundong save the man's life from a group of gangsters a few days ago." Zhou Qin played with her nails. "And I also know that Li Yundong wasn't carrying a gun last night." She looked up from her nails at Detective Wang.

    The detective seemed pretty satisfied with her answer.

    Detective Wang flipped through his notes

    "Did you see anything strange while you were driving towards the scene?" Detective Wang kept staring at his notes. "Anything peculiar or out of the ordinary?"

    Another trick question. These guys were trying to see if her story matched the facts. Well, good thing Zhou Qin was smart enough to concoct a lie using the truth.

    "Well..." Zhou Qin pretended to think hard. "Ah. There were a bunch of potholes along the way. Like, one every ten or twenty meters or so? I remember having to swerve between lanes to avoid them."

    That was the truth. She did have to avoid holes on the road. God, it was like someone had dropped giant metal balls from the sky. What on earth did Li Yundong do anyway?

    "What about when you arrived at the scene? What did you see?"

    Zhou Qin leaned away from the table until her back touched the chair. "I slowed down when I saw skid marks on the road. Eventually, I saw He Shao's car on my left." Zhou Qin paused for a moment. "It had fallen off the road onto a wide field beside the road."

    "Okay. What state was the car in? Wrecked? Were the engines running?"

    "Turned turtle," Zhou Qin said in a heartbeat. "It was pretty badly damaged. But I'm not sure about the details. Don't know about the engine either. I wasn't really focused on the car."

    "What else did you see?"

    "I saw..." Zhou Qin paused to take a breath. "Well, Li Yundong was walking towards the car. Then, He Shao crawled out from the overturned car."

    Lies. The only thing she saw when she arrived was the entire field bathed in golden light. There was a large golden sphere surrounding Li Yundong's body. It was an unbelievable sight.

    "What did Li Yundong do?"

    Zhou Qin glanced at the detective. This was the part where she had to be really careful with her words. Saying the wrong thing would incriminate Li Yundong.

    "Li Yundong and He Shao were yelling at each other."

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